AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN (Jacques Rivette, 2009)

Enchanting Jane Birkin plays Kate in Jacques Rivette’s likely farewell film, the dreamy, humane 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup. Following his death, Kate returns to her father’s threadbare, faded circus (and to sister and niece) on its likely last tour and fifteen years after her likely banishment for jinxing the troupe’s insulated world by causing the death of her lover during performance. Whereas Rivette’s Ne touchez pas la hache (2007) converses with Eric Rohmer, this film converses with the spirit of Federico Fellini.
     Kate’s ambivalence about “going home” helps explain her vehicle’s stalled engine which, as though in a farcical dream, another motorist, Vittorio, without speaking gets easily to run while Kate looks silently on. This chance roadside encounter plays like a circus or vaudeville skit. The two traveling loners reunite in the provincial town where the circus is playing (to sparse audiences) and to which Kate invites Vittorio. He, too, may become part of the tour.
     Rivette employs brief, graceful tracking shots as the film’s “action”—generally, either conversations or bits of performance—alternates between inside and out. A wine-red (and cheesy) curtain, as well as a stretch of blackness punctuated by small, inadequate stage lights, suggests mortality, abandonment, disquiet, illusion, quiet, theatrical artifice; outside, lush leafiness and fresh air create a beauteous environment that accommodates, ironically, encounters and exchanges that often seem as “scripted” as what appears inside the tent. The circus performers—including Vittorio, whose unexpected laughter as a weary clown act plays out makes him, in the audience, an inadvertent part of the act—seem burdened by the solemnly approaching end of their once-venerated form of entertainment.
     Nature, like theater, like cinema, is illusion. In the mysterious final shot, the lit moon gradually disappears before our eyes.

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