Jacques Rivette – Le coup du berger AKA Fool’s Mate (1956)


When an unfaithful wife receives a fur coat from her lover as a gift, they must figure out a way to keep the husband from discovering the coat’s true origins.

This short by Jacques Rivette is often cited as the first film of the French New Wave. It was
co-written by Claude Chabrol, Jean-Marie Straub was the assistant director and there are
cameos by François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Chabrol and Rivette himself. Starring
Virginie Vitry, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Jean-Claude Brialy.

Claire (Virginie Vitry) is a chic young Parisian woman married to a somewhat older husband,
Claude (Jean-Claude Brialy). As this 28-minute trifle opens, she leaves her husband playing
baroque music at the piano, telling him she is off to see her sister, Solange. In reality she
meets her lover, Jean (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) at his apartment; after some idle chatter
and love-making he tells her a story of the shriveled heads that the Jivaro indians used to
give their lovers as tokens of affection but as she shivers in disgust, he gives her a mink
instead. How will they hide it from her husband though? An elaborate scheme involving
hiding it at a bus terminal where the husband himself will find it and bring it home is
concocted but alas the husband is wiser than they think…

A playful and charming little piece seemingly indebted to noir in its conspiratorial storyline and
photography – though much lighter than true noir, co-written by Rivette with Charles Bitsch
and Claude Chabrol, who appears in a cameo in a party sequence at the end along with
Rivette, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, this is Rivette’s 4th and last short (28
minutes) before he turned to features. It’s his first in 35mm with sound, and the photography
(black and white) and mise en scene are quite accomplished if for the most part
unspectacular. Several of his trademarks do show up here, including the interest in games
and play-acting, conspiracies and young love; also in its use of diagetic sound – as far as I
can tell all of the music in the film is by the baroque composer François Couperin, but it is
heard as part of a typical mimetic sound-scheme, played on the piano in the first scene, and
played on record in later scenes. The film is framed as a story of a chess-game, narrated
briefly at various points by the director who comments on the story in a droll, ironic manner
that reminds me more of early Godard than of Rivette’s other work.


Subtitles:English (muxed)

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