MERRY GO ROUND, Jacques Rivette (France 1981).

By Moira Sullivan 
Joe Dallesandro and Maria Schneider at dinner.
Merry Go Round by Jacques Rivette is a film that uses the instrument of the camera and editing to create a mystical thriller. In this film we see the young Maria Schneider as she actually looked in real life without the artificial clothing and makeup she is known for in Last Tango in Paris. Maria is a tiny, thin woman, with lots of wavy brown hair, dressed in jeans, t-shirts and moccasins, the kind with fringe on the sides from the 70’s. Schneider picked her leading man for the film, Joe Dallesandro, who reported that Maria in real life was his friend. But according to Jacques Rivette, the relationship between the two on the set became increasingly hostile. 
Merry Go Round has a short scene with the present French Minister of Culture and Communication Frederic Mitterrand who plays a courier. Later Mitterrand would present Schneider with an outstanding tribute when she was inducted in the Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et Lettres) six months before her death this February. 
The totally improvisational story has a loosely constructed plot about how Leó, played by Maria and Ben (Dallesandro) meet in a hotel—a rendezvous pre- arranged by Leó’s sister Elisabeth (Danièle Gegauff) who never shows up. To the story is that Leó and Elizabeth’s father has died and four million dollars of his estate is unaccounted for. Now and then throughout the film there are cutaways to a sax player and bassist playing improvisational music. Leó and Ben then wander through the French countryside looking for Elisabeth and the missing money.  Ben tries to seduce Leó but she is immune. So there is no romance between the two. Instead they find an abandoned house and eat a lot of gourmet canned goods from the absent owner. They assemble the goods on a long dinner table. The dinner party is one of the most visually stunning scenes of the film where the two actors both at opposite ends of the table with a huge candelabrum in the center, peering at one another. 

In the course of the film an unknown woman pursues Ben through the forest, not to mention a knight in shining armor. Later we see Ben trying to shoot at the women on sand dunes. The woman at first looks like Leo with shorter hair. Elisabeth is kidnapped then rescued by Leo and later shot. It is not clear what happens to the money or if the father is actually dead.  The entire premise of the films is to dispense with the conventional use of plot, yet there is a random pattern that you can’t help trying to assemble as a spectator. 

Maria and Dallesandro totally steal the film and the rest of the cast serve as distractions of little substance. If Maria Schneider had had her way Merry Go Round would have been the kind of film she would have liked as her first to give her a softer start in art cinema.

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/10/11
Movie Magazine International