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    Va Savoir

    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.


    (Originally reviewed at the New York Film Festival in October 2001.)

    Veteran French filmmaker Jacques Rivette has a reputation for making long films.

    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
    New York Film Festival 2001

    All About Lily Chou-Chou
    Blue Wild Angel
    La Cienaga
    Fat Girl
    The Royal Tenenbaums
    Mulholland Drive
    Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.
    Waking Life
    Va Savoir
    Y Tu Mama Tambien
    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.

    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 creates.

    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

    Reader comments on Va Savoir:

  • va savoir   from Marieange><br> E, Apr 10, 2002
  • foliwn in lov wi us in chinid   from roxannelegrand, May 8, 2014

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