Va Savoir (Who Knows?) (PG)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner01/10/2002

Four out of five stars
Running time: 154 minutes

This is Jacques Rivette’s 30th film in a career spanning 53 years, a remarkable record for a director whose films are known for their length and who, other than with La Belle Noisuse, has never had what might be described as a "box office hit". But that’s the French for you.

Camille, the star of the play Pirandello currently doing the provincial rounds, is bracing herself for a return to Paris, the home of a lover whose nest she fled two years ago. Her new squeeze Ugo, the director of the play, has his doubts, too.

Sure enough, she starts seeing her ‘ex’ upon arrival, even though he’s married now. But his wife may be having an affair with the half-brother of a woman who is trying to seduce Ugo, the same woman who has an ambiguous relationship with her sibling. All this sounds like a car crash waiting to happen. The question is who will walk out of the wreckage with whom?

They could have treated this as a farce, but the comedy here is of a much more sophisticated and involving nature. Sex is a laughing matter, but only after you’ve done it. Although a ‘talky’ film, meaning is conveyed through the sensuality of the characters rather than through windy dialogue.

To do this successfully, of course, you need sensual actors and a director in the role of catalyst. Rivette plays his part by allowing the characters physical space, so that when there is closeness there’s a certain sexual tension that goes with it.

On screen Jeanne Bandibar leads the way as Camille, swanning through the film with a performance of some nuance, and providing a lightness of touch that is omnipresent. She’s as much the soul of the film, as she is of the play, whose narrative is not dissimilar to the events unfolding.

This ‘comedy of manners’ resembles, in content if not in style, the work of Rivette’s compatriot Eric Rohmer. At first, it all seems too inconsequential but soon it starts to insinuate itself in your thought-stream, and the importance of who will do precisely what to whom begins to loom large.

The immense charm of the film is that it manages to impart profundity without ever appearing to do so.

It’s possible to walk away with either a warm glow or thinking, so what? To which I’d reply by quoting the translation of the title: who knows?

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Content updated: 23/03/2019 21:37

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