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Jacques Rivette and David Lynch rank among the most revered and enigmatic filmmakers of the past 50 years, uncompromising iconoclasts with sui generis sensibilities and devoted cult followings.

Rivette’s career began as an offshoot from his film criticism of the 1950s and ’60s for Cahiers du Cinéma, where he was a colleague of Truffaut, Godard, and Rohmer, and an omnivorous cinephile; Lynch’s originated in the post-industrial doom and gloom of late-’60s Philadelphia, where he transitioned to filmmaking from painting and sculpture. Rivette eventually found himself working on a grander scale and with some of the most lauded French actors of the post–New Wave period on films renowned for their singular atmospheres, radical use of improvisation, and marathon running times. The success of Lynch’s landmark midnight movie Eraserhead (1977) launched his improbable, up-and-down career, which saw him enshrined as a central figure in American pop culture, influential yet inimitable, with an instantly identifiable if often hard-to-define signature.

Despite these vastly different artistic contexts and trajectories, both filmmakers share a number of pet themes that they have revisited obsessively: secrets, conspiracies, and paranoia; women in trouble; the supernatural manifesting itself within the everyday; the nature of performance and the stage as an arena for transformation; the uncanny sense of narrative as a puzzle without a solution, a force with a life of its own. Their best films act as spells, capable of overcoming viewer and audience alike. They conjure distinctive worlds in which the truth remains unknowable, nightmares masquerade as harmless reveries, and characters change identities amid impossible, self-consciously filmic situations.

This dual retrospective aims to reveal the profound affinities and eerie correspondences between the dark, sometimes mystical, always fascinating visions of these two modern masters. Seven Lynch films are paired here with seven Rivette films. Some of the couplings are premised on thematic similarities; others on tonal kinships. Each is a suggestive double bill that might allow us to see these films, and perhaps reality itself, anew.

British Film Institute; Institut Francais; Cultural Services of the French Embassy; Veronique Manniez-Rivette; David Lynch

Programmed by Dennis Lim and Dan Sullivan.