The French new wave — “nouvelle vague” to fans of Cahiers du Cinema, the influential film journal for which legends such as Jean Luc-Godard, 70, Eric Rohmer, 81, and Jacques Rivette, 73, wrote criticism as pups — is back at the New York Film Festival (September 28th to October 14th). Godard’s Eloge de l’amour will close the festival, which will present twenty-five films from twelve countries, including Rohmer’s The Lady and the Duke and U.S. entries such as Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Todd Solondz’s Storytelling and Richard Linklater’s artful Waking Life. The favor of the opening-night spot belongs to Rivette’s Va Savoir (Who Knows?), which debuts commercially the following day. Rivette is considered an acquired taste, since even his better-known films (Celine and Julie Go Boating, La Belle Noiseuse) don’t play by conventional rules and can run long — 1970’s Out One ran for thirteen hours.
Va Savoir, you’ll be pleased to know, clocks in at a mere 154 minutes — a short by Rivette standards — and can actually be called a romantic romp without stretching things too much. But, as ever in Rivette, reality chips away at life’s lighter fantasies.
The setting is Paris, to which Camille (Jeanne Balibar) has returned after three years in Italy to star in an Italian stage production of Luigi Pirandello’s As You Desire Me. The actress is having an affair with her co-star Ugo (Sergio Castellitto), who also directs the play and copes with Camille’s mood swings when he’s not flirting with Do (a delicious Helene de Fougerolles), the student who is helping him locate the unpublished manuscript for The Destiny of Venice by the eighteenth-century playwright Goldoni. Never mind that Do may be getting it on with her half brother, Arthur (Bruno Todeschini), a thief who is trying to seduce Sonia (Marianne Basler), a ballet teacher now married to Pierre (Jacques Bonnaff — Â¡), Camille’s former lover.
These six characters in search of an author find one in Rivette, whose films often revel in the twisted synchronicity of art and life. Va Savoir abounds in pleasures: the social horror of a dinner party gone wrong; Camille escaping Pierre across the roofs of Paris; a drunken game of chicken on a theater catwalk; the seductive invitation Camille can manage merely by massaging her own bare foot. Balibar is a magician of moods and, as such, the ideal actress for Rivette, a filmmaker not given to tidy romantic notions. It’s hard to think of a better way to open this festival than with a film by an unbowed legend who still feels bracingly free to rub emotions raw.