Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Film Review: Around A Small Mountain

"Around A Small Mountain" ** (out of ****)

Before walking into Jacques Rivette's "Around A Small Mountain" (2010) my expectations were high. Rivette is one of the great filmmakers no one talks about anymore. He may not be as well remembered as his fellow Nouvelle Vague contemporaries such as Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer or Francois Truffaut, but, he is just as important to French cinema as they are. Knowing that, it makes me very sad that I have to tell you the old master's latest film is a disappointment.

The film follows two lost souls. A woman, Kate (Jane Birkin) who is running away from the past and a man, Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto) who just seems to be running away. She use to be a circus performer but 15 years ago packed up and left her father's circus after a traumatic performance. Now, with the death of her father Kate returns. What memories will this reunion inspire?

Vittorio is supposedly on his way to Barcelona but after he notices Kate stranded on a deserted road, he fixes her car and soon becomes intrigued by her. She invites him to the circus performance that night.

Now, a lot of readers may start to jump the gun and say, well, I can figure out where this movie is going. It's a love story between these two people. I'll let you think what you want because I don't want to spoil the movie for you, but, things aren't what they may seem.

What disappoints me so much about this film is it is such a rich story. This movie should inspire us. It is about love, life and death. After leaving the movie theatre we should have a strong sense to go out and live our lives. The movie should make us appreciate every moment we share with those we love. And in the end it does none of those things.

I reviewed Rivette's last film, "The Duchess of Langeasis" (2008) which was a period piece love story about two tragic lovers who didn't have time on their side. In some ways we can draw the connection to this film. These are two people whom have met at the wrong time in their lives. But Rivette doesn't dwell on that. This is not the kind of romance some viewers may be expecting.

As I sat in the movie theatre I could actually sense the boredom of the people sitting around me. I over heard one woman lean in to her friend and say "well, at least the scenery is nice". "Around A Small Mountain" needed more passion. More vibrant characters. Better dialogue. It is sparse. It also needed Eric Rohmer. I felt the same way after I saw Rivette's "Va Savoir" (2001), which was a much better film. It also needed a beautiful, lush score. Where's Michel Legrand when we need him? The film makes me think of songs like "Watch What Happens", "You Must Believe in Spring" and "The Windmills of Your Mind".

Rivette is a gifted filmmaker. Watch "La Belle Noiseuse" (1991), my favorite of his films. Watch "Va Savoir" or his most popular film "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (1974). Those movies will prove Rivette's talent. "Around A Small Mountain" is not the kind of film that should have been made by a director of Rivette's stature. He is capable of so much more. This kind of movie makes us appreciate what Eric Rohmer did and how much he will be missed.

If you want to see a movie about people in a circus dealing with love and lost watch Charlie Chaplin's unsung comic gem "The Circus" (1928).