- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

''Va Savoir" or "Who Knows?" proves to be a baffling and trifling letdown.

The picture, directed by the venerable new wave filmmaker Jacques Rivette, now 73, stretches the comedy pretext of the drawing room, backstage or boudoir well beyond the point of optimum effectiveness. At 150 minutes, the film is prolix to a fault and seems to catch on in the last 10 minutes or so, putting on a sprightly rush to the fadeout that, alas, turns out to be an absent-minded and futile gesture.

It's as if the director had woken from a lengthy nap and suddenly exclaimed, "Let's party."

Mr. Rivette tends toward verboseness and sometimes justifies this tendency, memorably a decade ago while contemplating Emmanuelle Beart as an artist's unclad and increasingly uneasy model in "La Belle Noiseuse." That was four hours of absorbing character observation in a claustrophobic setting. "Va Savoir," playing locally at the Cinema Arts and Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle, would appear to have more mobility and versatility at its disposal, since Mr. Rivette needs to keep tabs on several characters who have the run of Paris.

He also has a strikingly angular leading lady in Jeanne Balibar, cast as a theater actress named Camille. The character returns to Paris after an exile of three years with an Italian troupe that is reviving Luigi Pirandello's "As You Desire Me," evidently to little or no success. Camille is the consort of the director and leading man, Sergio Castellitto as Ugo, obsessed between performances with tracking down a lost play by Carlo Goldoni.

Camille, who tends to soliloquize spontaneously, courts backsliding temptation by paying a call on her ex, a seemingly expendable pedant named Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffe), now domiciled with a dance instructor named Sonia (Marianne Basler) and plugging away on a tome titled "Heidegger the Jealous."

Ugo encounters fresh temptation in the young and fetching Dominique (Helen de Fourgerolles), a student whose mother (Catherine Rouvel) owns a private library, collected by her late husband, that could help find the elusive Goldoni text. Dominique, or Do for short, has a disreputable and libertine half-brother, Arthur (Bruno Todeschini), who seems to be involved with Sonia, dabbles in jewelry theft and makes a play for Camille as soon as he catches a performance.

None of these infatuations, tentative or consummated, is sustained or sorted out in a confidently clever or satisfying way. The movie looks attractive, and Mr. Rivette is comfortable with a tone of easygoing, conversational naturalism. But you're always waiting for "Va Savoir" to get untracked with one set of relationships at the very least. Two-and-a-half hours later, the movie remains on hold, an unfocused, uncoordinated romantic comedy.

Excerpts from "As You Desire Me" are frequently inserted between updates on the six characters in search of a good plot. MGM did a film version almost 70 years ago, one of Great Garbo's flops. The character portrayed by Miss Garbo and Miss Balibar is an amnesiac society wife, Lucia, who remains adrift after being restored to husband and mansion.

Miss Balibar does stir some promising, fleeting recollections of Audrey Hepburn and Capucine. She looks lanky and snazzy posing in such costumes as satin pajamas and a Tiger Lady kimono. Maybe she needs something as frisky as "What's New, Pussycat?" to bring out a fun-loving streak. Maybe she needs to be playing a madcap fashion model. But then, the whole conception could use frisky and transparent recharges.

"We had the right pace," observes Ugo after the curtain falls on one performance. Unfortunately, "Va Savoir" never discovers the right pace, the right emphasis or the right sort of anything needed to keep light entertainment on its toes and elegantly balanced.


TITLE: "Va Savoir" ("Who Knows?")

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Jacques Rivette. Screenplay by Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent and Mr. Rivette. Cinematography by William Lubtchansky. In French and Italian with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes


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