Le coup du berger (1956, Jacques Rivette)

I wish Le coup du berger had some kind of subtitle, like An Experiment in Head Room. Something to acknowledge the short’s constant issues with framing. It’s not clear who’s responsibly for the lousy head room. Director Rivette is the obvious culprit; there are a lot of shots where people move into better (and sometimes out of) better framing. But the frequent camera tilts are artless and rough, so maybe it’s cinematographer Charles L. Bitsch. But the tilt was presumably Rivette’s bad idea in the first place. And then there’s Denise de Casabianca’s editing, which is at best rhythmless and at works inept. The cutting on Anne Doat’s big scene arguably ruins the effectiveness of her performance.

Then again, who knows how good the performance would be with better editing.

The film’s about Virginie Vitry. Doat’s her sister. Married Vitry uses Doat as cover for going to see her lover, Jean-Claude Brialy. Brialy hangs out in his apartment and… does little else. Vitry’s husband, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, is an aloof Renaissance man. He plays the piano, he sketches, he paints. I think one of his nude subjects is supposed to be someone in their circle of friends. Of course, Brialy is also in that circle but it’s never explained. He’s just Vitry’s lover. And Vitry is just an adulterer. Three screenwriters—Rivette, producer Claude Chabrol, cinematographer Bitsch—and nothing in the way of character. For anyone. Doniol-Valcroze does the most at implying character and not when he’s supposed to be doing the big reveal. It’s when he’s sick of talking to Vitry after a few minutes. Coup runs thirty minutes. Vitry gets tiring by her third scene.

There’s story in those thirty minutes: Doniol-Valcroze gives Vitry a fur coat because they smash. Only she can’t bring it home because her husband doesn’t know she’s smashing one of their friends (who it turns out she doesn’t even like very much—I’m not sure if coup’s got enough energy to be misogynist; if it doesn’t, it’s just misanthropic). So Vitry has this plan to put the coat in a suitcase and put it in storage at the bus (or train) depot. She’ll “find” the ticket and send Doniol-Valcroze to get it. What could possibly go wrong? Well, you’ll probably be able to guess before the short even hits the halfway point. Maybe not all the details, but at least the plotting ones.

The music’s nice? It ought to be; it’s Baroque composer François Couperin’s work. Otherwise… Le coup du berger is far from the best way to spend a half hour.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Rivette; written by Rivette, Claude Chabrol, and Charles L. Bitsch; director of photography, Bitsch; edited by Denise de Casabianca; produced by Pierre Braunberger and Chabrol for Les Films de la Pléiade.

Starring Virginie Vitry (Claire), Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (Jean), Jean-Claude Brialy (Claude), and Anne Doat (Solange)


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