Out 1 (1971) Jacques Rivette
If I thought for very long about how inadequate I am to write intelligently on Jacques Rivette’s nearly 13-hour film Out 1: Noli me tangere, I probably wouldn’t even attempt it. But I’m going to try anyway.
I’m not a film scholar or a film expert, but I do like to explore the vast universe of film, so here I am watching Out 1. I’ve only known about the film for a short time, first hearing about it when I learned of the death of Rivette back on January 29 of this year. I’d never seen any of his films, but the idea of a 13-hour film that’s mysterious, cryptic, ambiguous, and possibly about a grand-scale conspiracy absolutely fascinated me.
Before I shelled out the money for the 13-disc Carlotta Films Blu-ray/DVD edition, I decided to watch Rivette’s first major feature, Paris Belongs to Us (1961). That film also concerns mystery, secrecy, conspiracy and more, yet in many ways it is more narrative-driven and more traditional (to a point) than Out 1. I certainly liked it enough to purchase Out 1, which I started watching this week.
The box set (which includes two versions of the film as well as other features) includes six Blu-rays and seven DVDs with a 120-page booklet in English and French. I plan to post my thoughts on the film as I watch each disc, which includes two episodes of about 90-100 minutes each.
Here is the synopsis from the Out 1 entry on the Carlotta website:
Paris, April 13th 1970. Two theater groups each rehearse avant-garde adaptations of plays by Aeschylus. A young deaf-mute begs for change in cafés while playing the harmonica. A young woman seduces men in order to rob them. As a conspiracy develops, the protagonists’ stories start to intertwine…
Early in the first episode, “From Lili to Thomas,” Lili (Michèle Moretti, above right, purple bow), the woman who’s directing one theater group, wants two of its actors to replicate a greeting they came up with when they were just clowning around. They can’t do it. Another acting group, led by a man named Thomas (Michael Lonsdale), begins with several pairs of actors mirroring each other going through various poses, excecises and maneuvers. In between scenes of these two groups, we see a man named Colin (Jean-Pierre Léaud, photo directly below) walking into cafés, presenting each customer with a blue sheet of paper that reads “I’m deaf and dumb. I bring a message of destiny. Please give me one franc,” or something to that effect. He blasts away on his harmonica until people give him money. Later we see Frédérique (Juliet Berto, second photo below), a sexy thief/con artist who has a gay friend she calls Honeymoon. (We get the feeling Honeymoon is the only person she’s ever honest with.)
This gives you a little more information, but there’s more. These characters are expanded on further in the second episode, “From Thomas to Frédérique,” yet the majority of the first two episodes is concerned with the acting groups and their preparation for their plays.
At times, these scenes are maddening and seem interminable, yet they may be the key to everything that’s happening in Out 1: Noli me tangere (translated “touch me not” or more loosely, “don’t interfere”) Lili’s group seems far less professional and polished (or even focused) than Thomas’s group. Lili’s seeks novel ways to make their text, Seven Against Thebes, come alive while Thomas’s group takes a far more experimental approach to understanding Prometheus Bound rather than simply interpreting it. One of Thomas’s actors states that maybe they should try to make their own play, something spontaneous and French, lamenting that maybe audiences (as well as the actors themselves) can’t understand Aeschylus anymore. They try to get into the mind of Prometheus, but have great difficulty doing so, almost as if this is something divine that humans are unable to grasp.
I think the ladies and gentlemen on The Cinephiliacs podcast have touched on some of the elements I noticed (and many I didn’t) from the film. First, Rivette seems to be contrasting people in groups (the actors) with people in isolation (Colin and Frédérique), perhaps implying safety with one and danger in the other. Second, Rivette spends a lot of time and effort not only showing the actors’ entire bodies, but moving with them, responding to their movements. You get the feeling that Rivette simply told them to do what they wanted and he would follow them. There’s also a sense that the camera is often looking at the action from above, perhaps from the point of view of God or gods.
Just when you think these experimental scenes are going to make you scream, some interesting things begin to happen: Colin starts to receive notes from unknown sources. The notes are on blue paper, similar to what he uses for his “destiny” notes, yet contain cryptic messages about “The Thirteen,” notes that Colin tries to decipher using a blackboard, chalk, and the works of Balzac. Meanwhile, we learn more about Frédérique and some of the relationships inside and outside of Lili’s theater group.
Again, the key to all of this may be found in what the actors are doing in ensemble. If we dismiss their rehearsals as simply experimental goings-on, we might miss some of the clues as to what Rivette is all about here. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s all unrelated. But I doubt it.
After one exercise, an actor from Thomas’s group states, “The main thing is to keep calm. I tried to leave my body. I felt like I was watching you all.” I don’t know much about acting, but I do know about performing as a musician in an ensemble, and much of that involves a level of trust. That concept certainly comes across here, but one actor can’t bring herself to participate in some of the experimental free-form exercises. She states, “I can’t take part in aggression and violence.” Thomas replies, “It’s trust that stops you from being frightened.” Hmmm….
Even after watching over three hours of Out 1, there’s so much I don’t know. I won’t speculate here on what I think various plot elements mean or even what I think might happen next. I’m also staying away from reviews or commentary on the film (although I did, I believe, come close to encountering some spoilers in writing this post), wanting to experience the film with as little knowledge as possible. Maybe you’ll want to do the same.
Having said that, I am fascinated with what I think might be Rivette’s worldview. I also have to consider that he was a part of the French New Wave and that – even though the film was completed and “released” (more on that in subsequent posts) in 1971 – it’s very much a 60s film.
It should be obvious that Out 1 should probably not be anyone’s first exposure to international cinema, or maybe even to Rivette’s work. I almost wish I had viewed more of his work besides Paris Belongs to Us, but I’m glad I saw it before viewing Out 1. In my next Out 1 post, I’ll tackle Episodes 3 and 4 and hopefully have some thoughts containing more depth.