His Night with Rivette

They met in a bar near Calais, neither of them there for any good reason. He’d taken a wrong turning on the road to the City of Light; Rivette had stopped by to see a relative. They went to see a film together, not thought much of it and agreed to go for a walk along the unremarkable stretch of road leading out of town, and walked until there were no more street lamps and it grew so dark neither could see each-other’s face. They walked on talking blindly but trusting somehow that the sound of their voices might carry them nonetheless.
        ‘Maybe we’re lost,’ he said. His name was Paul. Both of them could tell from the tone of his voice that they were, certainly, lost.
        Rivette stopped walking. Withdrawn from the world the sound of his shoes, their delicate leather soles, continued to tap down anyway – somewhere.
        ‘Where?’ Paul asked without mentioning Rivette’s shoes. He, who had grown used to lying awake at night, terrified, sometimes inconsolable in his sense of the world dying, trusted in the telepathy of the night.
        ‘Paul,’ said Rivette, understanding how, in that moment, the magic of that young man, Paul, could be dismissed or drawn into the world, ‘I’m going to show you how to make a film.’
        Paul also stopped walking. He laughed.
        ‘Don’t be nervous.’
        ‘Jacques, I can’t make a film.’
        ‘Anybody can make a film.’
        Paul had wanted to make a film since he had seen the flickering colours of a Super 8 film projected on the living room wall of the house he grew up in; his parents’ house, its white wallpaper embossed with silvery roses. As he watched the film the roses had shown through, like animal markings: a leopard’s spots or a lizard’s scales. The film had made the house feel alive and that was how he felt, on that road, with Rivette. All around him was alive with the sense of the film they might make.
        He heard the clicking of the crickets like a projector, in the dark; and felt the world alive, not a dream, which is what in the night, as he lay awake, he had feared the world might become.
        ‘It’s alive,’ Paul said.
        ‘Yes.’
        ‘It’s alive.’
        ‘And this is how we will make a film.’ Rivette spoke quickly and quietly, knowing he would not be misheard. He took the young man’s hand and led him forward. ‘You were going to Paris?’
        ‘Yes.’ Paul felt the ground softening beneath him. They had left the road with no way of seeing how, or where. They crunched over the stubble of a freshly harvested field. Was he frightened?, he wondered.
        ‘What was taking you to Paris?’
        ‘I wanted to find a stage I could stand on in a theatre.’
        ‘You’re an actor?’
        ‘I’d like to act, yes.’
        ‘In a play?’ asked Rivette.
        ‘In a play, in a film. I don’t mind. I have an idea,’ he said, ‘that I will only be able to see life from there.’
        ‘From a stage?’
        ‘That’s right.’
        ‘So you stand on the stage, and you feel the lights on you, and you see the auditorium reach out in front of you as you begin to do what? To speak, to move, to think, to feel?’
        ‘I feel my way forward towards the people sitting in the auditorium. My audience.’ Paul saw their faces, all eyes on him as he stood there, waiting for him to speak.
        ‘What will you say?’ asked Rivette.
        Who,’ said Paul. ‘Who. I will say Shakespeare.’
        They keep walking, Paul thinking about the scenes from Shakespeare he has enacted in his bedroom, of an arch and the walls of a stage, and of Emanuelle Beart who would play opposite him in Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra, and of how he might speak Shakespeare.
        ‘This is Shakespeare,’ says Rivette and Paul feels the same thing as him, a dart of cold fire passing up his legs, stinging his thighs. They stagger a moment, amazed at the scene unfolding.
        Ahead of them Paul sees a white light and they walk towards it. As the light grows brighter another scene comes to him, of Paris at the centre of a projector playing his life out on the surface of the moon.
        There’s a cottage at the edge of a field, its stone walls and the shrubs outside, still blown and hopeless from the winter, all in white, an electric snow that Paul knows wouldn’t be there unless he is feeling frightened. He is scared, terrified like a cat who already knows what will happen.
        The light comes from a television screen facing one of the windows and he and Rivette keep walking until their breath mists up the glass. On the TV screen there are two presenters and a split away scene of a city street. Two men, dressed in black step out of a small car. They’re carrying rifles and walk like beasts, balanced, stalking a man on the floor. They shoot him and they run, panthers on the run.