A Muse of Godard and Rivette Reclaims the Screen in a Paris Retrospective

A Muse of Godard and Rivette Reclaims the Screen in a Paris Retrospective

The Cinémathèque Française is currently paying tribute to Juliet Berto, the French actress and director who brought a sense of mystery to her now-classic roles before cancer ended her life in 1990, just before her 43rd birthday. Discovered in 1966 by Godard, she went on to play heroines who were by turns absent and morose, sophisticated and vulnerable. Later, she directed two films that were critical and box-office successes.

In 1966 Godard cast her in his seminal film "Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle" ("Two or Three Things That I Know About Her"). The following year she played a casual revolutionary in his bizarre political and social satire "La Chinoise" ("The Chinese Girl"). Jacques Rivette also featured her in his unclassifiable cinematographic experiment "Out 1: Noli me tangere" in 1971. The film clocked in at 12 hours and 40 minutes — although a "short" version of four hours and fifty minutes was later released — and combined the documentary and the fictional in intertwined tales of two acting companies. Berto went on to play Céline in Rivette's 1974 "Céline et Julie vont en bateau" ("Céline and Julie Go Boating"), which also melded theater and ordinary life into a compelling fantasy.

After the end of the New Wave in French cinema, Berto alternated between art-house films and popular movies, working alongside such acting greats as Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve and performing for directors such as Robert Enrico and Joseph Losey. In 1980, she took the director's chair, co-directing "Cap Canaille" with her partner Jean-Henri Roger and playing the lead role herself. Titled after the rocky outcropping on the French Riviera where it was set, the film invoked tropes of film noir. In addition to her classically French ironic detachment and distant sex appeal, the actress brought a smoldering Mediterranean sensuality to the role.

Berto went on to work with Roger on another film, "Neige" ("Snow"), which earned her the young director's prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1981. In 1986 she portrayed the uprooted heroine of "Un Amour à Paris" ("Love in Paris"), directed by Merzak Allouache. If her life had not been cut short, she most likely would have brought her restless, probing spirit to the work of a new generation of directors, such as Arnaud Desplechin, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Alain Guiraudie.

In this silent trailer for Godard's "Two or Three Things I Know about Her" — Berto's first film role — the iconoclastic director applies the ambiguity of the French pronoun "elle" (meaning both "her" and "it") to a diverse series of subjects including neo-capitalism, prostitution, the Paris region, the bathroom, and the Vietnam War.