With everyone from international distributors to archives to purveyors of deluxe video-edition archives serving as pack rats on Jean-Luc Godard’s behalf, it’s a surprise that a finished feature-length film, even if a television series episode from 1986, was left unexplored and unexploited, and broadcast only once.Godard’s rights holders are assiduous and dedicated. Even without pawing through the gloom-cave of Godard’s digs that we see in “Histoire(s) du cinéma,” someone outside lonely Rolle, Switzerland had to have known that “The Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company” (Série noire: Grandeur et décadence d’un petit commerce de cinéma) was under the floorboards in a lab or vault. Akin to his own sketched-in version of François Truffaut’s “Day for Night,” it’s a dense, diverting relic, a behind-the-scenes, tres Godardian fable of the director Gaspard Bazin (Jean-Pierre Léaud) casting and hoping to finance a new film with the help of failing producer Jean Almereyda (Jean-Pierre Mocky), who must cast his wife Eurydice (Marie Valera), who wants only to be a movie star.
Genteel as a follow-up to his believer-besieged 1985 “Hail Mary,” “Rise and Fall” has sturdy termite integrity in its depiction of a low-budget world with widescreen dreams, and Léaud amazes with a pitch-perfect performance about a creative man who moves forward only by gusts of mania. Godard also has a pungent, small role as Jean-Luc Godard (“Mais c’est Godard!”). The score is drawn from Arvo Pärt, Bela Bartok, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and a couple of clever, small variations on Georges Delerue’s score for “Contempt.”94m. (Ray Pride)
“The Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company” opens Friday, September 28 at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.