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TSPDT 2014: Out 1: noli me tangere

Posted by martinteller on February 24, 2014

I’ve decided to review this chapter by chapter, giving my impressions after watching each one.  Why?  I dunno, why not?

1 – De Lili à Thomas: Maybe when I watched the shorter “Spectre” version, I approached this all wrong.  Maybe it’s a comedy about how dumb actors are.  The first group (with Lili) is slightly more on the ball.  They seem to have a plan at least, although their decisions appear very arbitrary.  Thomas’s group is simply ridiculous.  They do a lot of hilarious primal non-verbal improv, rolling around on the floor basically just indulging their inner children.  Then they sit in a circle and whine about how hard it is to read lines.  You can tell which ones are the biggest attention whores because whatever random nonsense thing the group is doing, they’re the ones doing it the most.  The only one who really seems to have a grip on acting and putting it to creative use is Colin (Jean-Pierre Leaud), pretending to be deaf and dumb to panhandle a few francs.  Because Jean-Pierre Leaud is awesome.  Okay, maybe I’m being too snarky… truth is, so far I’m finding this pretty interesting but we’ll see how I feel after another 11 hours.

2 – De Thomas à Frédérique: At first it seems like Lili’s group is losing their grasp on the text, while Thomas’s group is getting deeper into it.  Then Thomas’s group does another one of their silly exercises and they look ridiculous again.  I keep vacillating between thinking these guys are all totally absurd and thinking, “Well, maybe this kind of stuff is what actors mean when they talk about ‘honing their instruments'” and the like.  I do believe there is at least some humorous intent to these scenes, but some of the discussion about their approach is actually kind of compelling.  And outside of theater troupes, things are getting more interesting.  We’re getting to know more about Frédérique, the Juliet Berto character.  And already (I was expecting it much later, based on what I remember about “Spectre”) we’re seeing references to the “Thirteen”, that mysterious cabal or whatever it is.  I must admit that for some reason I’m way more into this than I was with the shorter version, even though I was dreading it.

3 – De Frédérique à Sarah: Took a little break between chapters, which I think I’ll do every other episode.  Seems like a good idea to stave off fatigue.  I don’t remember this scene where Colin talks to the professor (Eric Rohmer!)… either it was cut out of the “Spectre” version or my memory sucks.  Either way, it’s nice for someone like me who’s never read any Balzac to get a little background.  Maybe one of the things people admire about this movie is that it’s got so much in it that it takes you down all these different pathways of thought.  In this episode, I was thinking it’s about all these elaborate but ineffective ways people have of finding meaning in things.  Lili’s group with their ultra-conceptual approach to Aeschylus, Thomas’s group circling in oblique orbits around it (is this like an “Asian” take they’re doing on it now? feels vaguely racist, in a hilariously clueless way), Colin and his blackboard trying to decipher the cryptic notes.  All these quixotic quests for truth.  Frédérique, despite her deceptions, is working closest to reality, and seems to be the only one closing in on genuine truths: life’s a bitch, every man for himself, and you win some, you lose some.

4 – De Sarah à Colin: It occurred to me that I had no idea why the film is called “Out 1” so I went looking.  I didn’t have to look far, Wikipedia had this quote from Rivette: “I chose ‘Out’ as the opposite of the vogue word ‘in’, which had caught on in France and which I thought was silly. The action of the film is rather like a serial which could continue through several episodes, so I gave it the number ‘One’.”  This supports my suspicions that the film is, at least to some degree, satirizing the counterculture.  Because it sure is funny watching these theater troupes do their goofy rehearsals.  Let’s see, what to say about this chapter?  Berto’s little Western pantomime on the staircase is great, maybe the best thing in the movie so far.  And Frédérique has now crossed paths with “the 13” herself.  For now, I’m not taking this Thirteen thing too seriously, I remember how nonsensical it was in “Spectre”.  I don’t think Rivette is constructing some elaborate puzzle about a conspiracy.  It’s funny how much more invested I feel with all this extra material… I’m even enjoying the lengthy rehearsal scenes, not just for the silliness but also the discussion about the process.

5 – De Colin à Pauline: First episode of my second day.  Maybe it’s because of the longer break between chapters, but I found this one a bit boring.  That whole conversation about Madagascar meant nothing to me, but I’m probably missing the point.  Frédérique’s attempts at blackmail are really funny, though, and there’s something very charming about Colin hanging out with his new co-workers eating jam.  And Renaud running off immediately with Quentin’s winnings is classic.  Actually, I suppose I liked this chapter too, it just gets off to kind of a slow start.  More and more I’m getting involved in this little world.  It isn’t simply because I’ve spent so much time with them (which would imply that any film of this length would be inherently compelling) but because their actions and interactions are entertaining.  The film seems to benefit from its lack of a specific narrative direction… I don’t feel like I’m been driven towards a goal, just casually observing and enjoying these characters.  Their exploits are goofy enough to be funny and intriguing without being frustratingly obtuse.  The whole business with “the 13” no longer feels like the puzzle it did in “Spectre”, now it’s more of a lark, a MacGuffin to mash up different people in different configurations.

6 – De Pauline à Emilie: One of the many things this movie is about (and with a film of this length, it can’t help being about many things) is transformation.  No one is where they started.  Lili’s group has completely forgotten about their production in their search for Renaud, with Quentin’s efforts in particular being as methodical and meticulous — and fruitless — as Colin with his blackboard.  Thomas’s group brought in Sarah and is moving even farther away from Prometheus.  Colin went from a panhandler to an obsessed conspiracy theorist (although often he seems to be just drifting).  Frédérique was a hustler, then a would-be blackmailer, now seeking answers about — and possibly entrance to — the 13.  People are blown about and reshuffled by the whims of circumstance.  And maybe the film is also about the mundaneness of power.  Whether or not the thirteen actually wield any power is debatable, but their lives are like anyone else’s.  The invisible enemy is just like us.  But I don’t think there’s any grand purpose to this film.  As Thomas puts it: “What matters in my work, is first of all to do something.  And then, through that work, you find out what the goal is.”

7 – D’Emilie à Lucie: I don’t know what this review is accomplishing, if anything.  A lot of what I’ve said probably means nothing if you haven’t seen the film, and maybe not much more if you have.  But perhaps this freewheeling style is well-suited to this movie.  It has that sense of freedom, a feeling that it can go anywhere it wants to… a common characteristic of the French New Wave.   Speaking of which, how very nouvelle vague of Berto to look at the camera when she says, “How strange, it’s like being in a cloak and dagger story.”  And Rivette seems to be enjoying his cloak and dagger story, for the moment… although Frédérique herself has apparently gotten over it.  Colin, meanwhile, is practically going off the deep end.  Such are the whims of directors and their characters.

8 – De Lucie à Marie: The shortest chapter, and the most serious.  And the most overtly avant-garde, at least in the 15-minute confrontation between Sarah and Emilie, which starts with Colin’s harmonica inexplicably on the soundtrack and is frequently interrupted by ominous black frames.  And then there’s that enigmatic final shot (recycled, I believe, from chapter 6).  I love how Rivette is simultaneously taking his invented intrigue seriously and not seriously.  The conversation between Lucie and Warok about it is really fascinating.  The mysterious cabal of power faces the same problems as the theater groups: a lot of futzing about over inconsequential nonsense until it all falls apart.  And yet sinister motives can have sinister consequences, even if only by accident… as Frédérique, thrust back into the world of secret societies, discovers.  Perhaps that final shot suggests that there are other, unknown powers at work.

In my review of the “Spectre” version I asked, “What’s in those other EIGHT HOURS that’s so unimportant it can be removed?”  The answer is it can’t be removed, and that’s why the shorter version sucks so hard.  For one thing, the humor comes out so much clearer in the full version.  Maybe it was just my mindset at the time, but watching “Spectre” I was so preoccupied trying to figure out “why” that all the humor was lost (and from a strictly narrative standpoint, the whole “Thirteen” thing makes a whole lot more sense now).  And those extra eight hours give the film so much breathing room, so much space to pull you in and not make it feel like a series of arbitrary “plot points”.  The film takes you into the world Rivette created, these storylines that intersect and flow in and out of each other.  It’s like a miniseries — or a full season of a television show — but without some predetermined arc guiding everything.  My experience with “Spectre” had me dreading this, I was astonished at how engrossing it turned out to be.  I would totally watch the whole thing again.  Rating: Very Good (88)


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