Originally intended as individual TV episodes, Jacques Rivette's 729 minutes of mystery, anxieties, and stupefying improvisation must be experienced as a whole for the sense of continuous, transcendent expansion to fully take hold. The setting is "Paris and its double," registered through the 16mm lens; Aeschylus, Balzac, and Carroll are uttered less as texts of foundation than as unreliable lighthouses in the turbulent ocean that is contemporary life. Michèle Moretti envisions Seven Against Thebes as visceral choreography, while Michael Lonsdale's troupe gropes through Prometheus Bound in a procession of intuitive freakouts -- dilations of L'Amour fou and dueling productions of theater, interpretation, search for meaning. Elsewhere, Jean-Pierre Léaud gets people to pay him not to play his harmonica, and Juliet Berto mooches cash from café customers: Like the thespians, the two hustlers are also role-players, he pretending to be a deaf-mute and she play-acting at extortion with a pile of filched letters. Others weaving in and out include Bulle Ogier's elegantly hippified boutique owner, Bernadette Lafont's isolated writer, and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze's chess-playing ex-radical -- autonomous creatures with autonomous realities, brushing against each other until Rivette's wondrous design of codes and messengers becomes clear. Léaud is given a cryptic note and uses it as the point of departure for an inquiry into the void, a doomed attempt at imposing a narrative onto the world's amorphous randomness which leads to a dead end. Or does it? The playful-ominous netherworld of cabals and conspiracies might be willed into being through belief ("The fact of being the suspect creates the crime"), yet in the end we're left with its pipe dream, the need to have faith in the possibility of interconnection. A post-May '68 lament, sure, but also a tickling "game of patience," a Balzacian lecture delivered by Eric Rohmer, a matchless succession of deadpan gags, a mirror reflecting into infinity: Rivette's transformative "pure hazard," couched in the bare image that holds a thousand enigmas. With Hermine Karagheuz, Karen Puig, Pierre Baillot, Marcel Bozonnet, Sylvain Corthay, Edwine Moatti, Bernadette Onfroy, Barbet Schroeder, Monique Clément, Michel Berto, and Françoise Fabian.
--- Fernando F. Croce