Friday, July 09, 2010

Jacques Rivette's Play of Life

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—I was going to post something on how the only thing Nimród Antal's new Predators (2010) has inspired in me is a strong desire to revisit John McTiernan's 1987 Predator—particularly its final showdown, which in and of itself is a small masterpiece of action filmmaking—but alas, my local library seems to have misplaced its DVD copy of the film at the moment.

I may revisit this at a later date, worry not, Predator fans; the movie will still get its due here at My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second! And who knows? Maybe I'll actually get around to seeing this new version.

In the meantime...let's talk a bit about Jacques Rivette, shall we?

Around a Small Mountain (2009), Rivette's latest work, begins a week-long run at the IFC Center today; I saw it a couple weeks ago at a press screening. It is my first-ever experience with the French New Wave filmmaking legend...and this introduction proved to be a highly complimentary one.

The film is set mostly among a circus troupe, and there are two main characters: Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto), an Italian outsider who becomes obsessed with the inner workings of this performing company; and Kate (Jane Birkin), who has returned to her family's traveling circus after leaving it under mysterious circumstances years ago. Much of the intrigue of Around a Small Mountain revolves around the emotional mysteries surrounding Kate and Vittorio's attempts to penetrate the wall she has built around herself.

But on the edges of this slender but charming little movie is an affectionate depiction of the lives of artists—as surely even these circus performers are, in their own ways—that subtly enlarges into a rich inquiry into the dividing lines between life and art, and furthermore between theater and cinema. Thus, on the surface of Around a Small Mountain, Rivette alternates between circus performances and backstage drama...but his conceit goes deeper than that. He may be the omniscient observer of the dramas playing out in front of his camera, but every once in a while he will break the fourth wall by putting that camera right in front of the circus performers and just letting it sit there, recording while they do their thing; it's as if they're performing just for us in the movie theater. Is this merely filmed theater, or is this just as much a cinematic moment as the more conventionally dramatic moments in the film? Rivette allows both mediums to blur, suggesting that, to him, they're possibly one and the same.

Even more than that bit of formal playfulness, though, Around a Small Mountain gradually develops into something rather inspiring: an ode to the power of art as a regenerative force. Art, it turns out, is what allows Kate to face her former traumas and at least lead the way toward some kind of catharsis—as surely art at its best can do, whether for the artist or for the spectator. And with both Vittorio and Kate, Rivette examines the power of art from both of those sides.

Around a Small Mountain may or may not itself be a great work of art...but I got immense pleasure out of its airy visual textures—courtesy of cinematographer Irina Lubtchansky, daughter of the late, great William—and its warm feel for the play of life. I look forward to diving into more of Rivette's work to see what else his distinct vision has yielded; for now, I thoroughly recommend checking this one out. It's quite wonderful.

And on that note: All of you, enjoy yourselves this weekend on this grand stage we call Life!

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