Of all the directors who participated in the French New Wave, Jacques Rivette has perhaps caused the smallest ripples on our own shores. Godard and Truffaut are the art-film equivalent of household names. Resnais, Chabrol, Rohmer ' all have left their marks on America's cinematic tastes. But Rivette, who's now 73, hasn't commanded the screen time of his Gallic brethren. And that's a pity because, of all these directors, he's the one most open to the myriad possibilities of life and the stories we like to tell ourselves about our lives. Claude Chabrol famously said, "There is no new wave, only the sea." And who, I wonder, has done a better job of traversing that sea than Rivette? His movies, many of which stretch well past the two-hour mark, offer a vast ocean of behavior and motivation, flotsam and jetsam. You never know where you're going in a Rivette movie, but you know you'll get there.
Va Savoir, Rivette's latest, could be called a masterpiece in that old sense of "a piece by a master." Like the millionth pot thrown by a revered ceramist, it doesn't exactly break new ground, but it covers the old ground with assured grace. And the old ground, for Rivette, consists of his tried-and-true themes: the world as a stage, the stage as a world, the friction between fact and fiction, and life as a dress rehearsal for an opening night that may never come. Like most of Rivette's movies, Va Savoir contains a play-within-the-film ' a Pirandello play that both reflects and refracts what Rivette's characters are up to. And what they're up to, it seems, is a kind of forced farce in which the various love triangles intersect one another to the point where you'd need a protractor to get them all sorted out. L'amour fou? Chaos theory? Or just part of the controlled aimlessness of life? Va savoir.
Translation: Who knows? Certainly not Camille (Jeanne Balibar), a French actress who's returned to Paris after a three-year sojourn in Italy. A beautiful gamine who has a habit of thinking out loud, Camille is like a female Hamlet when the movie opens. She left Paris in order to get rid of her former lover, the slightly brilliant but mostly dull Pierre (Jacques BonnaffÃ). And now Pierre's involved with Sonia (Marianne Basler), and Camille's involved with Ugo (Sergio Castellitto), the director of the Italian theater troupe she belongs to. But Camille isn't over Pierre, and Pierre isn't over Camille. And pretty soon, Ugo is getting mixed up with Do (HÃlÃne De Fougerolles), who's trÃs jeune and trÃs jolie. And did I mention that Do's half-brother, the ne'er-do-well Arthur (Bruno Todeschini), is carrying on an illicit affair with Sonia? And that Camille and Sonia....
Well, you get the picture. Va Savoir is a daisy chain of connections, misconnections and reconnections, the plot serving as a revolving door through which the characters keep circling one another. But I would be misleading you if I left you with the impression that the movie has the spritzy pace of a farce. It's closer to largo than to allegro. And the emotional temperature is often quite low ' a shrug instead of a smile. Balibar's Camille is a gamine in appearance only; her moods remind us of that other Camille, Garbo's tubercular courtesan. In the play-within-the-film, Camille is a woman who not only stands by but defines herself by her man. But in the film, Camille is a woman who is ready to break free of men altogether, a desire that is neatly symbolized when, having escaped from the room Pierre locked her up in, she floats above the rooftops of Paris, ruler of all she surveys.