October 2, 2006

Vancouver Dispatch. 1.

12½ hours. In the New York Times, Dennis Lim suggested it's the "movie equivalent of reading Proust or watching the Ring cycle." And, in Vancouver, Tom Charity's joined the self-chosen few who've seen it.

Out 1 Three days and 100 movies into the 25th Vancouver International Film Festival, it's hard to know where to start. With the official Opening Gala presentation, Volver? Or perhaps with the first film to unspool Thursday morning - the unofficial opener - The Pervert's Guide to Cinema?

But for sheer historical and cultural importance, it's doubtful anything could compete with the screening of Jacques Rivette's 12-and-a-half hour marathon Out 1 this weekend. What's more, it's a perfect symbol for the defiantly unfashionable cinephilia that dominates North America's second most popular film festival.

Thirty-five years after its premiere in France, Out 1 finally screened in North America for the first time. Is there another major film by an auteur director that has languished in such obscurity? Even after watching it, it's virtually impossible to come up with a precise plot synopsis, arrive at a definitive running time (it was projected here at 24fps, but shot on 25), or even agree on the title. Save for the efforts of the redoubtable Jonathan Rosenbaum there is virtually nothing in the English language on the film (look it up on the IMDb and you find no external reviews at all, and only three user comments).

In part, this state of affairs may be Rivette's fault. When his original version was rejected by the French TV station that commissioned it, he cut the film down from eight feature-length installments to a 225-minute theatrical version, which he dubbed Out 1: Spectre. (According to Rosenbaum, it is a radically different and more difficult work.) It wasn't until 1989 that the original was shown again, at the Rotterdam Film Festival, by which time it had accrued the (ironic?) subtitle Noli Me Tangere - "Touch Me Not." This subtitle doesn't appear anywhere on the print itself.

Earlier this year, the British Film Institute showed Out 1: Noli Me Tangere with (soft) English subtitles for the first time as part of the NFT's Rivette retrospective. Last weekend, I was among the two dozen hardy souls who watched a run through at the Vancity Theatre for the trio pushing the subtitles (an unpredictable live element which gave these screenings some extra-textual frisson). I went back this weekend to hear Jonathan Rosenbaum introduce the film in person to an audience numbering upwards of 30.

Jean-Pierre Léaud Out 1 has four main strands. Two involve different experimental theatre companies, led by Michel Lonsdale and Bernadette Lafont, each in the early stages of rehearsing plays by Aeschylus. Then there's a deaf-mute (or is he?) played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, who is primed to suspect the existence of a secret society, "the 13," inspired by Balzac's Histoire de Treize. In the fourth strand, Juliet Berto is a hustler, a con artiste who will also come across evidence of a conspiracy. But who are the 13, if they really exist, and what might they be up to?

At least half the running time consists of exhausting acting exercises in the Living Theatre style of the day. In his introduction, Rosenbaum quoted Rivette explaining that the film is about "play" in all its senses - as in English, the French word "joue" also connotes "act." The entire film was improvised, but these sustained, real-time acting studio sequences may have been intended as a kind of absolute vérité: what could be more true than actors acting? Or more boring, the philistine in me is bound to add... which begs the question, why we are so much more compelled by the hollow intrigues enacted by Léaud and Berto?

Of course there is a political dimension here, but ultimately the conspiracy, or "plot," stands in for all story: the impulse to join the dots together, to seek out patterns that often aren't obvious in real life. Watching the film, we do the very same thing. This is how we make sense of the world, why we appreciate art, and why we make it. But what if the grand design is an empty sham... what if all the world's a stage but no-one's written the script?

This monumental film's greatest surprise is that in the thirteenth hour a revelation is forthcoming, though as a fully paid up member of the Companions of Duty, it's nothing I can share with you here. Is Out 1 a masterpiece, "the key film [about] the 1960s" and "Rivette's most accessible movie," as Jonathan Rosenbaum claims? Yes, maybe and definitely not (but not necessarily in that order). It is clearly the central film in Rivette's development, a staging post on the way to Celine and Julie Go Boating, and a tremendous, tumultuous, somewhat torturous work. No self-respecting cinephile should miss it.

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Posted by dwhudson at October 2, 2006 12:43 AM


Just to clarify a small point: to the best of my knowledge, "Noli me tangere" was the subtitle of OUT 1 only when it was shown as a workprint in Le Havre in 1971. When a final version of the film was struck and prepared many years later (including a few changes in the editing), Rivette eliminated this subtitle, which is why it isn't on the print.

Posted by: Jonathan Rosenbaum at October 2, 2006 11:15 AM