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Va Savoir (Who Knows?) (Jacques Rivette) 2001

 

    Va Savoir (Who Knows?) the newest film by Jacques Rivette, one of the pioneers of the French New Wave, opened this year's New York Film Festival to great effect. A delightfully small comedy that follows the lives of six people in modern day Paris, this is the sort of film that is laden with subtleties of character and action that might be missed if it were viewed amidst a quagmire of several other films. 

 

    The film begins on a stage as, Camille, an actress (Jeanne Balibar) talks to an empty crowd about her anxieties. She feels afraid of the world, and lacks will to go on. Soon, we find that the reason is her disenchantment with her current lover/director, Ugo. We find that she has returned to Paris, her home, for the first time in three years, and has left behind an ex named Pierre (who is still humorously working on the same thesis three years later). Pierre is currently married to Sonia, a dance instructor, that is being courted by Arthur, the half-brother of Do, a student whom happens to be helping Ugo search for a lost manuscript. There is a great deal of interplay in  the film between the characters before we discover their relationships to each other, and that is the film's most tedious aspect. There is a willing suspension of disbelief required to accept that these relationships all flow into each other the way that they do, and the film takes its time in establishing them. 

 

    Once it does establish who is who, however, the film absolutely takes off. The film is a comedy, but rarely relies on outright gags for laughs. The majority of the humor lies in the shifting motivations of the characters. For example, in one early scene, Camille, who feels embarrassed for the way her partner Ugo acted during the previous night's dinner, goes to apologize to her hostess, Sonia. Sonia, however, due to her own marital difficulties, naturally assumes that Camille has come to apologize for the behavior of  her husband, Pierre. When Camille begins to apologize, Sonia starts making excuses for Pierre's actions (which actually left Camille once again enamored with him). Camille decides to alter her strategy here though, so she can better make a play at Pierre. The subtleties of the contradictions in their actions are what we derive our pleasure from. This might sound terribly convoluted, but on screen it plays out simply and humorously.

 

    As the characters continue to flip-flop the object of their affection, nearly every scene takes on such lightly comic dimensions. Never do we feel that their decisions don't make sense, though, as Rivette has composed a script that allows us to always justify and understand each character's impetus. By essentially limiting his cast to six members, he allows us, over the film's two and a half hour running time, to grow to know each of them intimately. During the run of the play, each of the characters comes to watch the play. We see a key scene from the production as each of them is affected by it differently, and viewing the play causes each to, once again, alter the way they see the other characters. In Rivette's film, art doesn't imitate life, but rather inspires it. The film's take on art, like its take on relationships, is more mature and realistic than we see in most films. Much to my delight, in Va Savoir, the characters actually think before they act, which is much rarer than one would suspect in films.

* * * *

September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman