Around a Small Mountain (2009, Jacques Rivette)

A tiny film for Rivette, near the end of his career, with his old collaborators. Centers around two people – Jane Birkin (not as great as she was in La Belle Noiseuse) and Sergio Castellitto (greater than he was in Va Savoir) – who meet at a tiny circus, near the end of its life.

From the commentary: “One of the things that attracts Vittorio to the circus troupe is his sense that they have no director. He sees an opportunity, a possible role for himself.”

The first scene is magic: Jane is broken down on the road en route to re-joining the circus after many years away (due to the on-stage death of her boyfriend) when non-circus-performer Sergio, acting more like he belongs in the circus than anybody, stops and fixes her car, with no dialogue at all. After that, Sergio remains somewhat magical, but Jane’s story becomes something more scripted and typically movie-like than usually found in a Rivette film. Apparently it’s all full of interesting metaphors, and after reading Sam’s comments I’m sure I should give it another shot, but it didn’t strike me as hard as Don’t Touch the Axe, or practically any of his others, for that matter. It’s not like I understood his intentions in making Joan the Maid or the symbolic meaning behind Va Savoir, but I loved them nonetheless, and this one lacked that immediate power. It was, however, his funniest movie since Le Pont du Nord (not counting Up, Down, Fragile, which I haven’t seen), and that’s more than I can say for Rohmer’s final film, to which Sam admiringly compared this.

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie, just not as much as I expected to. Some great non-naturalistic lighting, some good awkward stage scenes (a bizarre clown bit that revolves around broken dishes), and my second favorite moment after the wordless open, Jane Birkin walking the tightrope, first towards the camera with the tightrope at bottom of frame, so we can see she’s truly performing the stunt, then it pans up slightly as she turns around, so she walks back with the rope itself out of the shot, the titular mountain (the French title is roughly 36 views of Saint Loup Peak) in the distance.

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