As true cinephiles will know, Jacques Rivette’s films are not for the faint-hearted. They require commitment from the viewer as they are generally long. In fact Va Savoir, aptly translated in English as Who Knows?, is short at 150 minutes when compared to Out 1: Noli Me Tangere (1970) which was 12 hours 40 minutes. Jacques Rivette is 73. He started as a film critic for Cahiers Du Cinema and went on to be a founding member of the French New Wave. He is best known for Celine And Julie Go Boating (1974) and La Belle Noiseuse (1991), the latter winning the Ecumenical Jury Prize at Cannes.
Va Savoir opened the New York Film Festival this year and like many of Rivette’s films, is a witty, light-hearted and gently absurdist examination of relationships. Rivette manages to explore all of his themes in Va Savoir: the intersection of theatre and real life; old houses and their dark secrets; the pleasure of mystery; the capricious nature of love and the way women close ranks and help each other in times of need.
Va Savoir is also an ensemble piece. Rivette has a sextet of people trying to work out what love is and wherein lies happiness. Therein lies the puzzle of the film. Rivette has Va Savoir circling around the staging of a play in Italian in Paris. He demanded bilingual performances from all of his principal cast members and as such, Va Savoir cleverly plays off the love/hate relationship between French and Italian cinema and theatre. French actress Jeanne Balibar is brilliantly cast as the alluring Camille and Rivette continues his love affair with female roles.
This is not a film for everyone. Some people will see it as very French, that is, long, a bit aimless and all talk, which it is. Others will realise it is a farce and hang on for the ride. Without doubt Va Savoir is a strange film, sort of passionless but also riveting (no pun intended). It is also funny and at least there is an abundance of eye candy for the girls. The only pity is that just when you really get into the story, when Rivette ties it all together, it ends. Ah well, the price you pay for a Rivette film under four hours!