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'Up': Unusual Musical About Workaday Paris


"Up/Down/Fragile," which launches a series of French films at the Grande 4-Plex, is not like any musical you have ever seen, but then its director, New Wave pioneer Jacques Rivette, is not like other filmmakers, either.

To begin with, more often than not, Rivette favors long films. When was the last time you saw a musical that clocked in at 2 hours and 44 minutes, had no singing and dancing numbers in its first hour and not much plot until yet another hour?

Yet more often than not Rivette also richly rewards the demands he places on his viewers, and that is most definitely the case here. Rivette, whose last picture was the superb "La Belle Noiseuse," has said that his film, which takes its title from shipping instructions on parcels, was inspired by MGM's modestly budgeted musicals of the '50s rather than the studio's classics, specifically Stanley Donen's "Give a Girl a Break" in that it followed the fortunes of three young women in a big city.

Rivette's three young women are Louise (Marianne Denicourt), Ninon (Nathalie Richard) and Ida (Laurence Cote). Louise has just emerged from a coma of several years, caused by an accident, and has taken a tiny apartment in Paris, where she has also inherited a fine, antique-filled old home from her aunt. Her solicitous father, a Geneva financier, calls every day to see how she is doing. The blond Ninon has been living an unsavory existence with her gangster boyfriend, but has fled from him, landing a job as a moped delivery person.

In Paris only three months, Ida, who grew up in Nemours as an adopted child, has landed a job at the Library of Decorative Arts and is obsessed with learning the identity of her biological parents, her mother especially. Each is confronting her past.


What Rivette is up to is discovering beauty and meaning in daily life in workaday Paris. His three actresses are not conventional movie star beauties, but their poise and carriage are innately elegant. The graceful manner in which they move keys how Christophe Pollock moves his camera, and this concern for movement allows the musical numbers to occur in the most spontaneous way possible.

To be sure, they are organic to the material in the way Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's numbers are. Rivette is making fantasy from reality in the most natural manner possible, collaborating with his actors in creating their characters and taking all the time and space he needs to allow his people and their lives to seem entirely lifelike.

"Up/Down/Fragile," which could describe his heroines' fluctuating states of mind, is the antithesis of the slick, polished Hollywood musical. Rivette's actors do move well and sing pleasantly and have been skillfully choreographed by Caroline Marcade, but that they are clearly not professional singers and dancers is part of their charm, a way for Rivette to discover the extraordinarily moving in the seemingly ordinary.

Linking the three women is Roland (Andre Marcon), a stocky, pleasant-looking man of perhaps 40 who has an immense design studio adjacent to the messenger service office where Ninon works. He has met Ida while doing library research, and he was a friend of Louise's late aunt. As the film flows between these women, a story line ever so gradually emerges, making us wonder whether Ninon has what it takes to behave honorably and not just by her wits, whether Louise will be strong enough to sustain some unpleasant truths, and whether Ida, should she get a lead on a woman who might be her mother, will decide to follow it up.

Rivette's actors, who include the ever-memorable Anna Karina as a nightclub singer and Bruno Todeschini as a novice private detective hired by Louise's father to keep a protective eye on her, seem, not surprisingly, to be living rather than acting their parts.

"Up/Down/Fragile" takes place in the same city as Rivette's landmark "Paris Belongs to Us" (1958-60), in which he probed the effect of the fear of totalitarianism and the threat of nuclear warfare on the minds of young people. Rivette here is in a far lighter mood, but perhaps these people will also discover that Paris belongs to no one.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: It includes some strong language, some sensuality and a scene of violence.



Marianne Denicourt: Louise

Nathalie Richard: Ninon

Laurence Cote: Ida

Andre Marcon: Roland

Anna Karina: Sarah

A Cinema Parallel release. Director Jacques Rivette. Story by Laurence Co^te, Marianne Denicourt, Nathalie Richard, Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent, Rivette. Dialogue by Bonitzer and Laurent. Cinematographer Christophe Pollock. Editor Nicole Lubatchansky. Costumes Charlotte David. Music Francois Breant. Choreographer Caroline Marcade. Set designer Manu de Chavigny. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 44 minutes.

* Exclusively at the Grande 4-Plex for one week, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 617-0268.

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