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Film / La Belle Noiseuse

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"La Belle Noiseuse" is the best film I have ever seen about the physical creation of art, and about the painful bond between an artist and his muse.

La Belle Noiseuse (the title translates loosely as "The Beautiful Troublemaker") is a film by Jacques Rivette, loosely based on a story by Balzac, The Unfinished Masterpiece. Starring Emmanuelle Béart, Michel Piccoli and Jane Birkin, it was released in 1991.

Nicolas, a young artist, visits in the company of his girlfriend Marianne (Béart) a famous painter, Frenhofer (Piccoli), who has for the last several years been living as a recluse with his wife in their old house in Provence. Frenhofer no longer paints, and among his unfinished works is a portrait of a nude woman, "La Belle Noiseuse", for which he had used his wife (Birkin) as a model.

At the urging of his agent, Frenhofer agrees to resume his work on the nude portrait. Nicolas, in Marianne's absence, decides to "lease" his girlfriend to the painter so she can be his new model. Incensed that the deal took place without her consent, Marianne nonetheless agrees to pose in the nude for Frenhofer. Inspired by her youth and beauty, the painter starts over with a new version of "La Belle Noiseuse" with a vengeance.

A shorter, different version was released in 1993 for TV under the title La Belle Noiseuse: Divertimento; Rivette used the same footage but re-edited it, so that the story is told from the point of view of the artist's wife.

Contains examples of:

  • Differing Priorities Breakup: Marianne gradually breaks away from Nicolas when she realizes she doesn't need him, and that they're destined for different paths.
  • Establishing Character Moment: It's subtle, but notice the scene about 45 minutes into the movie, when Marianne is coming out of the shower in the room she's sharing with Nicolas, soon after she's learned that he volunteered her to pose for Frenhofer. She comes out of the shower wrapped up in a towel, then goes behind a privacy screen to take the towel off and change into her clothes. She isn't comfortable exposing her body to her lover, much less a stranger, which is part of the reason why she's so pissed at Nicolas for telling Frenhofer she'll pose.
  • Fan Disservice: This creeps up interestingly: although Marianne has reluctantly agreed to pose nude for hours on end, she's understandably in a really foul temper and the resulting Mood Dissonance is what makes the film much more than just four hours of Emmanuelle Béart with no clothes on.
    • The sheer repetitiveness of the constant nudity tends to drain it of eroticism.
  • Intermission: A title card at the 2:14 mark says "Before the next pose, a five-minute intermission." Then "Part 2" plays.
  • Love Triangle: Marianne and Frenhofer are not romantically involved, but Liz understandably becomes a bit jealous that he's gotten a new muse who is a young, beautiful woman posing for him for hours. In the end, however, she comes to an understanding about their relationship and
  • May–December Romance: Averted. The relationship between the old painter and his twentysomething model is erotically charged, but remains platonic and non-romantic.
  • The Muse: Marianne to Frenhofer; reluctantly at first, then willingly. Liz used to be this to him, and is saddened by her loss of the role.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Would you like to see Emmanuelle Béart naked? But see above.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Sort of. Marianne and Nicolas aren't married, but Julienne lived with them in a small apartment and her relationship with Marianne is frayed because of it, to say the least. She and Julienne spar during the movie, and Julienne becomes upset that Marianne is about to break up with Nicholas but is too afraid to say it, while Marianne is annoyed Julienne is acting more of a wife than a sister; but in the end, Marianne admits to Nicolas that she likes his sister.
  • Public Exposure: Marianne poses nude for a painter for four hours. She's rather reluctant and irritated about being badgered into it.
  • Reluctant Fanservice Girl: Marianne resents that she's been tricked into posing for Frenhofer, but she ends up spending most of the movie nude.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: When Liz is angrily accusing Frenhofer of "playing around" with Marianne, he forcefully kisses her. It works.
  • Speech-Centric Work: Speech and Marianne's nudity, anyway. It's a four-hour movie featuring people talking, about art and creation and their relationships.
  • Take Our Word for It: The finished painting, which is so incredible that everyone who views it is moved by the intensity, is not shown on-screen.
  • Talent Double: When Frenhofer's hands are seen in close-up while he's painting, the one holding the brush is actually a professional painter.
  • Title Drop: La Belle Noiseuse is an abandoned project by Frenhofer, a portrait inspired by a story he read about a 16th century courtesan. He tried to make the portrait with his wife as the model but couldn't find the inspiration, and abandoned it ten years ago; with Marianne he tries again.
  • Untranslated Title: The Naughty Beauty, though it's alternatively translated as The Beautiful Troublemaker and (in the film itself)The Beautiful Pain-in-the-Ass.
  • Worth It: Played with. Marianne constantly wonders why she's letting herself model for Frenhofer; she's cold and physically uncomfortable; an old guy is staring at her naked body for hours every day; his wife (the original model) resents her and her boyfriend has essentially pimped her out. In the end she decides that, since Frenhofer has recovered his inspiration and she's the subject of a great painting, it was probably Worth It.
  • Writer's Block: The painter's equivalent thereof, and a long-term problem for Frenhofer, who has not painted in years.