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With: Jeanne Balibar, Sergio Castellitto, Jacques Bonnaffe, Marianne Basler, Helene de Fougerolles, Bruno Todeschini
Written by: Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent, Jacques Rivette
Directed by: Jacques Rivette
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief nudity
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 154
Date: 05/16/2001

Va Savoir (2001)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Stage Diving

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of myall-time favorite film directors, Jacques Rivette, once made a film calledOut 1 that ran more than 12 hours. To my knowledge it was never shown inthat full-length version, and Rivette was forced to go with a shorter versioncalled Out 1: Spectre.

Since then, he's reined himself in, sticking with paltry four-hour films like La Belle Noiseuse (1991) and Joan the Maid (1994) and three-hour films like Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) and Up Down Fragile (1995).

So Rivette's new film, the two and a half hour romantic comedy Va Savoir, looks like a trifle in comparison. Yet if any other filmmaker had made it, it would be seen as an ambitious masterpiece. As for me, I'm just happy to have the master back in action. Va Savoir is one of the year's best pictures.

A romantic romp featuring six characters, Va Savoir criss-crosses between lovers in contemporary Paris. French actress Camille (Jeanne Balibar), who has re-located to Italy, returns to Paris to play the lead role in Pirandello's As You Desire Me in its original Italian (Greta Garbo played the same role in the 1932 film). Her lover and director Ugo (Sergio Castellitto) comes along as part of the deal.

Camille tracks down her ex-lover, the middle-aged Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffe), who's still working on his philosophy thesis. Pierre is now married, to dancer Sonia (Marianne Basler).

In his spare time, Ugo searches for a lost Carlo Goldoni play, and beautiful blonde Dominique (Helene de Fougerolles) helps him. Finally, Do's lout half-brother Arthur (Bruno Todeschini) casts a shadow over the proceedings, attempting to seduce all the females in the cast. (The movie even implies that he shares an incestuous relationship with Do.)

The film begins, and seems to center, on Camille. She's unhappy and throws tantrums and wonders if finding her ex-lover Pierre will bring her any much-needed satisfaction. But when he goes crazy and violently tries to possess her by locking her in a storage room, she climbs out the skylight and walks away.

As things get moving, Rivette utilizes a couple of coincidences to bring these six oddballs together. Ugo meets Do in the library while doing research, then finds that she actually lives in the house where the missing manuscript is supposed to be kept. Arthur shows up at Sonia's dance class and tries to seduce her. But in reality the shady Arthur really wants to get his mitts on a lovely and expensive ring from a former relationship that Sonia still wears.

Finally, when Ugo finds out that Pierre has made a play for his wife, he challenges the other to a "duel," which involves climbing high into the rafters of the theater and drinking vodka. The first one to fall, loses.

One of Rivette's calling cards, besides the tremendous length of his films and the long, sustained shots, is a predilection with the creation of art. In La Belle Noiseuse, we witnessed the creation of a painting. In Celine and Julie Go Boating, two characters enter a house in which a movie-like drama is playing itself out over and over again. But most of his films deal with theater, as Va Savoir does.

And thus, all six characters, plus Do and Arthur's mother, end up on the As You Desire Me stage, dancing and kissing and reveling in their newfound happiness. (Even Arthur -- whose plan to sell the ring failed.) It's a deliberately stagy and overwritten happy ending, but it works perfectly in context -- an ironic meeting of artifice and "real" life.

And if you still find yourself skeptical of the film's gleefully happy ending, just remember that the title, loosely translated, means, "who knows?"

Despite Rivette's "master" status and the fact that Va Savoir runs 150 minutes, viewers should know that they're in for a purely joyous experience. Above all else, Va Savoir is just a lot of fun.

DVD Details: Va Savoir was one of the master's lesser films, but still ranked one of the best films of the year. Columbia/TriStar's new DVD offers a nice clean transfer, but no extras. Apparently there is a much longer version that has yet to be made avaialable in the States.

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