Directed by: Jacques Rivette, Suzanne Schiffman
Screenplay: Jacques Rivette, Suzanne Schiffman (inspired by) Honore de Balzac
Starring: Juliet Berto, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Michel Lonsdale, Michelle Morreti, Bulle Ogier
Duration: 773 minutes
BBFC certification: 15
Out 1, directed by the French new wave film maker Jacques Rivette, was first released in 1971. A notorious film in some quarters, the full viewing time is 12 hours and 43 minutes. For many years it has been difficult to obtain a copy of this film, but it has now been released in bluray format as part of a deluxe box set by Arrow films. The box set includes the full length version and a shorter edit titled Out 1: Spectre. The set also includes two ‘parallel’ films Duelle (une quarantine) and Noroit (une vengeance), as well as Merry-Go-Round, a film described as a surreal mystery. The set also includes a documentary The Mysteries of Paris: Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 Revisited.
Due to the length of this release, this is part one of a review, and will focus on the main feature. Part two, review of the other content, to follow shortly.
Being a long term fan of the films of Jacques Rivette, and also having wanted to see this particular film for many years, I looked forward to receiving the review copy. Prior to the advent of box set binge viewing, the idea of watching a film longer than 90 minutes, let alone 12hours 43mins, would have been an un-acceptable challenge to most audiences. But since the advent of long flowing television drama such as The Wire and Breaking Bad, this long form of viewing doesn’t seem such an unfamiliar pursuit. This is perhaps where the comparison between Out 1 and the high profile HBO dramas ends.
Out 1 is experimental. It would seem Jacques Rivette, as is in the case in many of his films, was interested in observing the creative process, with particular reference to the creative process of the theatre ensemble, or acting troupe. The opening scenes to this film depict a fly on the wall observation of two acting troupes. Initially unclear as to what their purpose is, as viewer we are exposed to their rehearsal spaces. For each troupe, much time is spent on drama warm up exercises, such as; stretching, dancing, improvisations, free expression, deep breathing, murmuring, moaning, yelling, body painting, smoking cigarettes, and fairly self-indulgent group analysis. Despite an initial impulse to reach for the remote control and press the eject button, these scenes manage to entice the viewer in to the fabric of the film.
As the story unfolds, both within the acting troupes and outside of them, it becomes apparent there is a multi-layered stream of overlapping connections and narratives at the heart of this film. It’s a complicated plot, obscure at times. Whilst each acting troupe is working towards a production of an Aeschylus tragedy (Seven Against Thebes and Prometheus Unbound respectively), the over-all narrative alludes to three novellas written by french nineteenth century author Honore de Balzac, which come under the title History of the Thirteen. This collection of stories is in part concerned with the actions of a rich and powerful secret society.
Outside the stories of the acting troupes are the further stories of two largely solitary characters. Colin (played by Jean-Pierre Leaud) is a visionary character. It would seem he is trying to negotiate an identity from a chaotic beginning. Initially seen busking for money in the street-side cafes’ of Paris, performing odd mimes to unsuspecting customers. Colin then receives a cryptic correspondence from an absent character named Pierre. The correspondence alludes to both History of the Thirteen, and the poem The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll. Through the remainder of the film Colin seeks to navigate the significance of these texts to his daily encounters. Likewise, the other outside character Frederique (played by Juliet Berto) is first introduced as a kind of vampiric gypsy / hustler, preying upon the streets of Paris. Her story takes a turn when in one of her scams she steals correspondence from a rich businessman she has befriended, intending to bribe him, but this correspondence further connects her to a secret society which both dictates her fate, and connects her to the plight of other characters in the film.
Out 1 has further layers and stories, too many to cover in this review, but as mentioned this sense of an ocean of overlapping connections is the fabric of the film. The style of the film is cinema verities, which has a feeling of documentary filming of everyday situations. Within this there is also a symbolic style, where props and colours mark out certain characters, and suggest an overall scheming or ordering. Very much of its time, it has an anarchic, counter-culture feel to it, in no-way polished. In some ways it reminded me of some of the films made by USA director Robert Altman, such as Nashville and Short Cuts. There is a sense of an overriding theme; how one chooses subjectivity and dissents from the dominant mode.
On a simple level Out 1 considers the contrasting of interiors and exteriors; In / Out. The character Colin almost goes insane trying to infiltrate the never revealed secret society. He reaches the conclusion he has been dealt a narrative that is impossible to resolve. Therefore, in order to feel whole he must reject the question asked. This seems to be the overall message of the film; to commit without knowing to an end goal, and to decide how to frame the question. For anyone who has read the verse and stories of Lewis Carroll, this atmosphere of questions met by non sensical and contradictory answers may be familiar. The back drops to the film are the parks, streets, bridges, buildings, rivers, cafes of Paris. Rivette achieves a magical otherworldly atmosphere within the mundane everyday world.
I found this film engrossing and enjoyable. This is a must for anyone who has 12 hours 43 minutes to spare, and is happy to lose themselves in a world of infinitely spiralling questions, but where no answer is ever provided.