Thursday, July 8, 2010

Birkin & Castellitto in Rivette's AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN opens at IFC Center

I'd say Jacques Rivette is lucky to have two stars as charismatic as Jane Birkin and Sergio Castellitto to help ground his new trifle AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN (36 vues du Pic Saint Loup). Despite its charming start (a cute-meet that works, opening the movie to its full plot potential) and a few scenes along the way that delight, his film continually threa-
tens and then finally does deflate, like a red balloon that has floated over one too many sharp turrets.

I'm not big on overly expository screenplays, but M. Rivette (shown at right) tends to err in the other direction, giving us a clue or two but refusing to go farther. We (like the character played by Castellitto) know something is wrong with our love interest and leading lady, but due to the refusal of the director and co-writer (with Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent) to fess up (he won't even allow Ms Birkin's character to do so: She consistently refuses to communicate with a guy who clearly cares for her), we viewers remain too much in the dark.

Worse, when we finally do learn a few answers, they are so obvious and soap-opera-like that we can but shrug. Worst all all is how he has used a wonderful actress like Birkin (above, left, with Castellitto) forcing her to babble a long monologue -- one addressed to nobody (she's by herself, you see, in a circus tent) and somehow make it even remotely believable.  No actor should have to do this, but there she is, giving it her all.  The monologue offers clues to character and event that might better have been more artfully filtered throughout the screenplay, rather than foisted upon us in a single, undigestible lump that must have been a tad trying for the actress.  That would have taken some more work, however, and this film, being a "lark," well, there's no need.

TrustMovies admires (you may, too) Rivette's love of and delight in the small, down-on-its-luck circus and its performers that provide the background for the film.  There is charm to be found here, in the alternately silly/funny tricks and acts on display, but considering the amount of time spent in and around this one-ring show, the return-on-investment isn't much.  References and quotes abound, everyone from Shakespeare to Donald Rumsfeld gets his licks in, as does the past, lost love, current attraction and games of control.

The biggest treat, aside from the two stars, may be the gorgeous French mountain country, an example of which is shown at left. Eventually, though, the movie becomes for us viewers much like it has been for Castellitto's character. It's as though we've taken a vacation and spent some odd time with a group of people that appear to invite us in -- only to leave us out.

Less lengthy than any other of this fabled French filmmaker's work that I know (two hours is short for Rivette), the movie's 84-minute running time does help in reaching the conclusion more quickly.  I can't imagine any diehard fans missing the film, though, at this late date in his career (Rivette's 82), it probably will not bring him new converts.

Around a Small Mountain, from The Cinema Guild, opens this Friday, July 9, in New York City exclusively at the IFC Center.  You can find additional playdates, with cities and theaters, here.

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