Who Knows? (Va Savoir)

Va Savoir, directed and co-written by Jacques Rivette, is a devilishly complicated contrivance, an ambling comedy of manners where everybody seems connected by only one or two degrees of separation.

At its center is a French actress (Jeanne Balibar) who, after three years abroad, has returned to Paris with an Italian acting troupe that is putting on a production of Pirandello’s As You Desire Me. Her current lover is the company’s director, Ugo (Sergio Castellitto). They’re a nicely complementary couple — Camille tense and tending to talk to herself, Ugo soulfully mellow to the point of seeming somewhat depressed — but their relationship is at a point where comfort and commitment aren’t quite in balance. It doesn’t help that Camille’s ex-lover, Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffé), is still obviously carrying a flame, despite the fact that he’s now married.

But that’s not the complicated part. The plot really thickens when Ugo, searching for a lost manuscript by Goldini (an 18th century Italian playwright), encounters and befriends the lovely young student Do (Helene De Fougerolles), little knowing that Do’s shady half-brother, Arthur (Bruno Todeschini), is having an affair with Sonia (Marianne Basler), who is the wife of Pierre (right, that Pierre). Do pursues Ugo, who doesn’t want to cheat on Camille, while Pierre pursues Camille, who can’t quite decide if she wants to cheat on Ugo. Meanwhile, Arthur supplies a subplot by robbing Sonia of a precious diamond.

I’ve always maintained that plot synopsis is the most boring part of any review, mainly because if you haven’t seen the movie, you don’t want to know too much, and if you have seen it, you already know, but also because it doesn’t really give you the flavor of a film. But in Va Savoir the plot is the flavor. With its tempted lovers simmering with indecision as the ambiguities pile up, it’s a slow-motion farce, minus the slamming doors.

The 73-year-old Rivette was one of the original New Wave directors, somewhat less celebrated than his contemporaries due to his relatively sparse output and the daunting length of many of his films (Va Savoir is a mere two hours), and if this is one of his more lightweight efforts, it still has the earmarks of an old master at work, effortlessly and deceptively intricate.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), 7:30 p.m. on Monday. Call 313-833-3237.

Read more about the rarely seen films of New Wave master Jacques Rivette.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].