Of the major French New Wave directors, Jacques Rivette was something of an acquired taste; more accurately the least acquired taste. And you’ll see why from this first feature, fascinating & foolish in equal measure. The first (and better) half of the typically overlong film follows the circuitous path of young university student Betty Schneider who falls in with a semi-professional theater crowd working on a production of Shakespeare’s rarely produced PERICLES. It’s doubtful anyone on set read the thing, but Rivette’s interest lies more in the intellectual/self-centered/self-destructive circle of 20 and 30-somethings falling in and out of tortured relationships. Right from the start, there’s a missing party, a young Spanish musician who committed suicide (or was he killed for political reasons?). A tape of his music made for the play is also missing and the film is structured on Schneider’s search for it. But a second murder (or was it suicide?) flips the film in something of a shaggy-dog political thriller with vast inexplicable conspiracies (Communist? Fascist? Pure Paranoia?) called out if never seen, as Schneider dashes around town trying to save her director, her brother, and a couple of American political exiles. (However does she afford the taxis?) Unlike Truffaut, Godard & Chabrol, Nouvelle Vaguers who got their debuts out before him, Rivette hasn’t the film chops to pull off his effects. (And gets little help from cinematographer Charles L. Bitsch.) He reaches for spontaneity and settles for arbitrary, but there’s something to be said for watching so many ‘ids’ bump heads together.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The film takes place in 1957, but the characters (sort of a French ‘Beat’ generation) already look ripe for the 1968 uprisings.