Long but Rivette-ing
"Va Savoir," shorter than the usual Jacques Rivette film at a mere 150 minutes, handles its collection of characters with deftness until, atypically, it ends quicker than expected.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
(Originally reviewed at the New York Film Festival in October 2001.)
Veteran French filmmaker Jacques Rivette has a reputation for making long films.
His masterwork, "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (1974), clocks in at a
little over three hours, but that's just a drop in the bucket compared to
his experimental 16mm films of the early 1970s the 12-hour 40-minute "Out
1: Noli Me Tangere" and its heavily edited cousin "Out 1: Spectre" (four
hours plus), for example. Perhaps Rivette is best known to American
audiences for his four-hour art/nude marathon "La Belle Noiseuse," an
experience that some cynics have likened to watching paint dry.
|Directed by: Jacques Rivette.|
Written by: Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent, Jacques Rivette.
Adapted from a play by: Luigi Pirandello.
Cast: Jeanne Balibar, Sergio Castellitto, Marianne Basler, Jacques Bonnaffe, Helene de Fougerolles, Bruno Todeschini, Catherine Rouvel.
In French with English subtitles.
Related links: All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
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Which is why, at a mere 150 minutes, his latest film "Va Savoir" ("Who
Knows?") seems positively minuscule in contrast.
The downside to "Va Savoir"'s scant two-and-a-half-hour duration is that
just when you're starting to get to know and appreciate its stellar cast of
characters, the film ends. Rivette understands the long format better than
anyone, and an extended running time gives the former Cahiers du Cinema
critic-turned-auteur the opportunity to develop his characters more fully.
Since Rivette loves to play around with films (or plays) within his bodies
of work, there's more scope for repetition and cross-referencing, something
the 73-year-old director juggled to perfection in "Celine and Julie . . ." but
really only has the time to hint at in "Va Savoir."
Typically a successful French farce or, in this particular case, a
romantic comedy is quickly remade by an American studio for singularly
economic reasons, yet here for perhaps the first time Sony Pictures
Classics is unleashing "Va Savoir" ahead of a very similar-plotted domestic
production (Edward Burns's "Sidewalks of New York"). Both films feature a
sextet of various displaced and disturbed individuals who wind up rubbing
shoulders and elbows over the movie's elaborate and sometimes volatile course.
"Va Savoir" focuses on three such "couples." There's Camille (Jeanne
Balibar), a gamine of an actress who has recently (and nervously) returned
to Paris from Italy after a three-year hiatus to perform in a play, "As You
Desire Me," with her co-star/director/lover Ugo (sympathetically played by
Sergio Castellitto). There's Camille's ex-husband, the pretentious Pierre
(Jacques Bonnaffe), and his wife Sonia (Marianne Basler), whom Camille
insists on meeting. And then there's a pretty young student, Do (Helene de
Fougerolles), who helps Ugo track down a missing manuscript he's been
obsessed with for years. Do lives with her possessive half-brother Arthur
(Bruno Todeschini) who, in turn, is orchestrating an affair with Sonia.
It's a condensed new-wave Parisian redux of "La Ronde," with Rivette and
his screenwriters (Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent) working overtime
in juxtaposing theatricality with reality and reveling in the conflicts it
An able not to mention bilingual cast are both charming and disarming,
with Balibar particularly radiant. As with many of his previous films,
Rivette continues to provide fully fleshed-out female roles and while the
sense of improvisation is gone for the most part, the characters are so
well written that it doesn't seem to matter. My only complaint, again, is
that "Va Savoir" develops a tempo that is abruptly and disappointingly
interrupted by a shorter than average (Rivette-wise) running time.
Who indeed knows what high drama and/or comic excesses might have ensued
had we been treated to another intriguing hour or two. . .
|OCTOBER 8, 2001|
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