First movie viewing in NYC, on Friday — Jacques Rivette’s 36 VUES DU PIC SAN LOUP, for some reason called AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN here. A tricky case for reviewing, in the sense that although Rivette developed the film and started making it, it seems he didn’t complete it owing to illness. Discussing the film afterwards with friends, I was charmed by the proposal that it’s actually appropriate that Rivette’s probably last movie, his testament, was made largely in his absence, could be considered incomplete… since the film summarizes so many of his themes, those are almost apposite qualities for it to possess.
It may be fruitless to speculate about how Rivette’s version of the movie would have differed had he completed it. Since Rivette famously develops his films beyond what is present in the script, one imagines a longer, messier film would have resulted. This one is maybe slightly too well-rounded, almost pat. But it’s nevertheless charming, beautiful, mostly very elegantly made — I don’t think we’d really know he was unable to supervise the whole shoot if we hadn’t learned it.
Jane Birkin plays a circus artist who’s returned to the family show after fifteen years away, driven off and then driven back by the same traumatic event. A traveling Italian businessman (Sergio Castellitto) takes an interest in her and resolves to cure her of the fear that prevents her from re-entering the circus ring, and, by extension, life. There are clowns, acrobats, and we get to see Birkin walk the tightrope, a talent she has somehow failed to demonstrate in any other movie of hers I recall. If I could walk the tightrope and I was a movie star, I would make sure they had a tightrope scene in every movie I did.
Like the movie itself, the closing image is arguably too neat a metaphor, but it’s so beautiful and tender, how can we object? A vast radiant moon slowly eclipsed by clouds. If this is to be the last Rivette movie, that’s a lovely summation.