La Belle Noiseuse (1991) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Except for the hours of Emmanuelle Beart nudity, neither of us liked this movie in the least, although some critics hail it as sheer genius.

Scoop's comments in white:

You have to credit director Jacques Rivette for one thing - the man has a set of cojones the size of Luxembourg. This movie is 229 minutes long in PAL format. PAL speeds all films by 4%, so it will run almost exactly four hours in an NTSC format or projected at normal speed (24 fps).

Lawrence of Freakin' Arabia runs 228 minutes in the extended director's cut.

That takes some brass ones, right?

A four hour film can only be shown once per evening, so the box office potential is infinitesimal unless the film IS Lawrence of Arabia.

But there's more.

La Belle Noiseuse is not a sweeping epic like Lawrence, or a fantasy masterpiece like The Return of the King, or a lengthy multi-part historical narrative like Andrei Rublev, or a brilliant saga of friends from childhood to old age, like Once Upon a Time in America. It is essentially an artist in his studio with one model. He spends time getting her in precisely the correct pose, then a hand sweeps a brush over a canvas for five minutes, dabbing, swirling, inking. Repeat as needed - for hours. There isn't much more to it than that. In fact, that is the only thing happening for more than half of the film - two hours worth, which is essentially a full-length film of its own.

And the other half is not that much more lively.

The model's boyfriend and the artist's wife become jealous of the bond being formed between the painter and his subject. It is not a romantic relationship which threatens them. The painter is a decrepit old fella, and the model is the young and stunning Emmanuelle Beart. The fact that there is no courtship, however, doesn't mean that the relationship isn't close. A man and a naked woman working together for weeks, with the man trying to capture the essence of the woman's soul on canvas, can form a deeper intimacy than any lovers. His questions and his staring eyes probe her deeper than any penis could. It is this unique bond, and its all-consuming nature, that gets in the way of their relationships with others.

Many critics were dazzled by this film. It won the grand prize at Cannes. There are nine reviews at MRQE, and every one gave it a perfect score except The Austin Chronicle, which awarded 4.5 out of 5 stars. Roger Ebert gave it four stars and raved that it conveyed a complete understanding of the artistic process. He argued that the long sessions with the model were completely necessary to show the link between the artist and the subject in the artistic process, and that the long scenes which consisted solely of a hand painting on a canvas were completely necessary to allow the audience to experience directly in the creation of art from nothing.

Obviously, I am an aesthetically-challenged Philistine. I can understand the point he is making, and I guess I could even be persuaded to agree with it on a cerebral level, but I can't imagine how anyone could stay awake during this film. It's four hours long; there's very little dialogue; the minimal dialogue is in French with subtitles and seems inordinately pretentious; there's basically one set; there are basically only two important actors.


See the main commentary.

DVD info from Amazon

  • NOT available in Region 1. It is available in Europe.

  • no widescreen

  • two DVD's

  • the only additional features are two interviews.

There is really only one element of the film which held my attention, and that was the constant naked presence of Beart. Given the length of this film, and the fact that she is completely naked for about half of its running time, Beart may have done more minutes of full nudity in this movie than any other legitimate actress in the history of cinema has done in a single film. It could be titled "Two Hours of Emmanuelle Beart posing stark naked", and have no fear of a false advertising claim. The only problem with that it is that the quantity kills the eroticism. Suppose you were married to a very beautiful woman and she walked around the house stark naked every minute of the day and night. How long do you think that would turn you on? Most likely, the quantity of the nudity would have a numbing effect on your libido, to the point where it would no longer be erotic, a phenomenon not unlike the lack of erections in nudist camps. Ms Beart, therefore, is stark naked constantly, and she is very beautiful, but the erotic value of that exposure is rapidly exhausted, and her naked body simply becomes part of the art supplies in the studio.


La Belle Noiseuse (1991), which means roughly "a girl who drives men to distraction," could be best called a still life. The detailed plot is as follows. Artist paints nude then hides painting. As for pace, the film is roughly 4 hours long, which leaves about 40 minutes for each word of the detailed plot description. So what do they do for four hours? Well, we watch disembodied hands scribble on sketch paper and canvas, and we ogle Emmanuelle Béart completely naked. Ok, I will admit that half of that formula is entertaining.

According to the major critics (like Roger Ebert who awarded 4 stars), this is a masterpiece. It shows the process of art, and the nature of the relationship of an artist and a good model . You might even extrapolate the theme to be about how close people become when part of a creative team. OK, so they showed me enough nudity to keep me awake for the entire four hours, but they didn't show me the finished painting. The reason the artist chose to brick it up in a wall after finishing it is probably something that every French child learns at their mother's knee, but I missed that point in my education.

It is beautifully photographed, and did I mention that Emmanuelle Béart is completely naked in all sorts of poses for the majority of the film? I can say for certainty that I will not be watching it again. However, it does have a large following. At Fisherman's wharf, in San Francisco, among the buskers and card table jewelry shops, are portrait artists. There is always a crowd watching them paint. I don't understand the attraction there, which is probably why I failed to see the attraction in this film.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 4/4.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $408,000 in the USA. I'm shocked that it did that much.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says. "this is a C+, as an art film, based on the universal admiration of critics. There is nothing incompetent about the movie, and many critics praised its examination of philosophical issues. Frankly, I think it is most useful as a cure for insomnia. I suppose this film might make an interesting class period in a course on art theory, but I just can't imagine that many of you will want to see it. If you just have to see Ms Beart prancing around stark naked for hours and hours, you had better keep your remote handy." Tuna estimates that it is a C.

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