‘Noroît’ Review: In a French Vision, Pirates Inhabit a Jacobean Drama

After his masterworks of the early 1970s, “Out 1” and “Celine and Julie Go Boating,” the French filmmaker Jacques Rivette conceived one of his typically ambitious projects: a four-film cycle called “Scenes From a Parallel Life.” Like “Celine and Julie,” and so many Rivette films to follow, these pictures would center on female characters and offer alternate realities by (among other things) playing with genres ancient and modern. Two of the planned four were completed in 1976, both of which are being revived this week.

The first, “Duelle,” proposes a kind of private mythology spotlighting the “Out: 1” stars Juliette Berto and Bulle Ogier. “Noroît” is a postmodern pirate picture, inspired by the Jacobean drama “The Revenger’s Tragedy.”

The antagonists here are Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont. Chaplin’s brother has died at the hands of buccaneers led by Lafont. Various intrigues are undertaken to get Chaplin close enough to Lafont to kill her.

Gender-swapping of the central roles notwithstanding, In some respects this is a faithful adaptation. Onscreen titles provide act and scene numbers. Chaplin and her other co-star, Kika Markham, frequently declaim portions of the play’s text in its original English language.

But “Noroît” takes a more meandering path than Jacobean drama in general, pondering, as Rivette’s films tend to, notions of life as performance and vice versa. When major plot events occur, the camera seems almost indifferent to them, inexorably and meticulously moving on.

The movie is best appreciated as a record of formidable female performers vibing with and against each other. At least until its last 40 minutes or so, when it reels into delirium. Various elemental effects (monochrome tints, lens-aperture lighting effects, audio dropouts) drive home its sense of unreality. The movie’s intellectual provocations — mostly pertaining to the elasticity of cinematic form — remain as lively as they were many decades ago.

Noroît Not rated. Running time: 2 hour 25 minutes. In French with English subtitles

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