‘Noroit’ or — ‘Pirates of The Caribbean’ Rivette Style.
So last night I plunged back into Jacques Rivette’s ‘Noroit’ (‘Vengeance’), a tale of hidden treasure in Monkey Bay, revenge, cosmic duality (?) and the best pirate outfit there’s ever been in a movie.
‘Noroit’ tells the story of Morag (Geraldine Chaplin) who is washed up onto the shores of an island (one just off the shores of the bigger island) along with the body of her dead brother. He was killed by the pirate leader Giulia (who possibly has magic powers) whose castle dominates the skyline of this isle.So Morag makes her way towards Giulia’s castle and oh my god, does this film look gorgeous! Sky, rock, sea, lichen, lilac heather and greenery all shimmer and you could almost get lost in the depth of these images.
Anyway, vowing revenge, and with a little inside help from Erika (played by an excellent Kika Markham), Morag is able to become Giulia’s bodyguard and, hence, work her way into her trust, trust that is fully given once Morag appears to save Giulia’s life.
Once part of the pirate gang Morag accompanies them on a daring raid on a boat where she has the opportunity to stab Giulia only to hesitate and miss her chance. Meanwhile, by clever use of the dead brother’s body and a play within a play, another of Giulia’s gang is dispatched of. Giulia herself, however, is still very much alive and kicking but with a masked ball coming up will this be Morag’s chance for revenge, or will differing rivalries preclude this?
‘Noroit’ is great, maybe not as great as ‘Duelle’, but it is, once again, the tale of stylish women having adventures under the gaze of a watchful Moon and Sun, but whereas ‘Duelle’ seemed of lunar origins so ‘Noroit’ seems more the daughter of the Sun.
The first link is that the colour of jewelled red is quick to rear its head again as the film opens with Morag describing her vengeance as an “inward blush”. Meanwhile the Sun is reddening like a silent, furious ruby in a fantastic opening shot. Is this the same magical jewel from ‘Duelle’ in a different form? Who knows and, besides, we’re only 30 seconds in.
The film is spilt into different chapters following a pattern of numbers of increasing value — 1/ 1; II/ 1,2; II/ 3, 4, 5; III/ 1, 2; and so on. What do these mean? To be honest I haven’t a bloody clue and simply chalked it up to Gallic impenetrability that I could sit back and be pleasantly bemused by.
Fortunately the rest of the film plays out a little more straightforwardly, albeit in a ridiculously oblique kind of way. If I had to describe ‘Noroit’ it’s basically Rivette makes James Bond’s ‘Licence to Kill’ combined with ‘Cut-throat Island’ and with costumes by…
Oh, Rene Renard’s costumes!
I don’t normally go crazy about costume design or clothes in a movie. Clothes are not really something I’m interested in as anybody who has seen the way I dress (a style I like to call “Failed Academic Chic”) will attest to. But in Rivette’s movies? I think I could watch this film purely for the clothing design alone.
This is best exemplified by Bernadette Lafont’s Giulia who looks simply wonderful; a cross between Bowie, Parisian design and Barbara Stanwyck in ’40 Guns’ and all in the most vibrant colours. She looks simply magnificent, especially when she is surveying for trouble with her mounted machine-gun by her side (talking of westerns there’s a ‘Shane’ reference in here too).
Meanwhile Geraldine Chaplin’s Morag and Erika (Kika Markham) seem to have some sort of duality thing going on. Morag asks Giulia at one point if she is frightened by the sound of the sea to which the answer seems to be yes. So in this tale of vengeance it appears that it is the ocean that could be the avenging force as once the plan to kill Giulia is set in motion Morag now dresses in a dark blue of wave patterns for her top half whilst the bottom half of Erika’s body is swathed in deep-red wave patterns, almost as though the sea has split itself into two distinct and separate elements of itself. Or maybe they are the twin versions of the ocean — one that reflects the Sun, the other that reflects the Moon. Or it could have just been done because it looks cool.
The film, like its predecessor, climaxes in a ritual and a show-down between two women representing two contrasting elements. Whereas ‘Duelle’ had its red jewel and its ruby light so, here, Rivette pulls out the red filters and smashes images of pure red with stark black and white. It seems another cosmic battle is taking place.
And like ‘Duelle’ the film is sliced through at various moments by the Moon arcing through the sky, pulling at events on the ground with its gravitational tidal force. What is happening to time and space in this movie?
‘Noroit’ is not quite as good as Duelle’ but then again, that is a film I love so much it would make Aphrodite blush (jewelled red and inwardly), but the more I watch ‘Noroit’ the more I’m losing myself in it and its remarkable, gorgeous world. It doesn’t have the narrative grip of its companion film but it certainly has its own magic, its own charm, striking visuals and a perfect puce-pink pirate outfit that’s to die for.