Va Savoir (Who Knows?)

Movie Information

Genre: Comedy
Director: Jacques Rivette
Starring: Jeanne Balibar, Sergio Castellitto, Marianne Basler, Jacques Bonnaffe, Helene De Fougerolles
Rated: PG-13

Roger Ebert has called this film by Jacques Rivette, one of the founders of the French “New Wave,” a “farce in waltz time.” That’s not off the mark, but I have to confess I found it more like farce paced to a dirge. It’s not a bad movie, but what it comes down to is 90 minutes of a pretty good little movie housed in a whopping 154-minute running time that neither its slight story — nor its characters — can really support. By its very nature, farce needs speed — French farce especially so. It depends on incident and people coming and going from rooms, either just missing each other or confronting each other — and very little like that occurs here. The results do have their amusements and the screenplay is certainly intelligently — and often quirkily — written, but it’s all so leisurely that the characters often seem almost like somnambulists. That said, there’s a delicious intricacy to the way in which the various stories in the film interconnect. Camille (Jeanne Balilbar) is an actress returning to Paris with her husband Ugo’s (Sergio Castellitto) Italian theatre troupe. She dreads being in Paris because she’s not in the least over her ex-lover, Pierre (Jacques Bonaffe), who — though now married to Sonia (Marianne Basler) — is also not over Camille. This, however, is just the beginning of the connections between characters — the rest of which I won’t divulge because a great deal of the fun of the film comes from the improbable roundelay of its characters. The most awkward aspect of the film — and the thing that most slows it down — is the insistence on returning to excerpts from the two plays Camille and Ugo are appearing in. Neither play is all that interesting (and the value of the nebulous thematic connections between the plays and the plot are used up very quickly), and when we start seeing the same scenes more than once, the film really begins to sag. Cinematically, Rivette’s approach to the film is as leisurely as his pace. It is probably not coincidental that he chose the directorial credit of “mise en scene” rather than the more traditional “realise par,” since his approach is very much more theatrical –concentrating on the movement of the characters within the frame rather than the movement or placement of his camera. This also tends to make the film appear to move more slowly than is good for it. It really isn’t until the last section of Va Savoir that the film truly moves into the realm of farce — and then does so in a clever manner that makes a farce of the farce that’s being played. Unfortunately, it comes too late in the proceedings to fully bring the film to vibrant life, and we’re left with a sense of having had a supremely intelligent entertainment that just wasn’t all that much fun. Still, it’s a handsome, smart movie with likable, bright characters. Right now, that’s a precious commodity at this low point in the movie-going season.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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