All discussions of French New Wave director Jacques Rivette invariably come around to length, not merely to groan that most of his work runs more than three hours (1972's Out One is 13), but also because the relationship between screen time and real time is so crucial to appreciating his art. Rivette's fascination with the banal, seemingly insignificant details of everyday life abides far beyond the point where other filmmakers would cut away, but sometimes his deliberate process can yield fascinating results. La Belle Noiseuse, his mesmerizing 1990 study of painter and subject, is perhaps the only film ever to fully acknowledge the arduous labor involved in the artistic process, featuring extended sequences in which Michel Piccoliscratch-scratch-scratches away on a half-filled canvas. His latest, Secret Defense, is ostensibly a suspense thriller in the Hitchcockian mode, but he surgically removes all the tension and urgency that normally drives the genre. It's not enough for his heroine, La Ceremonie's Sandrine Bonnaire, to simply pick up a gun in the heat of the moment and immediately exact revenge on her father's suspected killer (Jerzy Radziwilowicz). First, she has to decide on a first- or second-class ticket from the city to the provinces, board the train, down two vodkas in the refreshment car, resist the advances of another passenger, transfer to another train, and walk a considerable distance to his country chateau. Unfortunately, Rivette's interest in the vast time span between action and reaction is more intellectually compelling than watchable. Around the third or fourth time the expressionless Bonnaire strolls into the kitchen to refill her water glass, you pretty much get the idea. Secret Defense meticulously colors in the spaces that other films, for good reason, leave blank.
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