This week, Northwest Film Forum is screening films by a British master and a French master. The British master is Ken Loach (his new film, Looking for Eric, examines the kind of power or influence that professional soccer exerts on the working class—indeed, this film should have been screened during the World Cup madness). The French master is Jacques Rivette, one of the central figures of the New Wave movement in cinema (last week, NWFF screened an excellent documentary, Two in the Wave, about the friendship between that movement's most famous members—Godard and Truffaut).
Rivette's new feature is Around a Small Mountain, and though it is a pleasant little film, one feels that a good amount of its meaning (or substance) failed to cross the distance (or gap) between our culture and French culture. This feeling is not caused by complexity or difficulty or narrative convolutions but the very opposite—its almost childlike simplicity. The movie is so simple that you expect there must be more to it, more behind it, more layers beneath the surface of the dialogue, the sunny scenes, the dry faces of the characters.
The whole story: An Italian man (Sergio Castellitto) who has a taste for fast cars meets a woman who is a member of a traveling circus. The meeting happens while the man is journeying from one European town to another. He happens to pass a French woman who is on the side of the road, uselessly staring at the engine of her dead car. The Italian man stops and expertly revives the car. To return the good deed, the woman offers the Italian man a free ticket to her circus. The Italian man goes to the performance, becomes enchanted, and starts to follow the drifting circus.
The film has the pace, the purity, the lightness of a cloud passing across a summer sky. It also has a little bit of the Divine Comedy: "In the middle of the journey of our life/I found myself astray in a dark wood/Where the straight road had been lost sight of." Our 21st-century Dante is indeed a man in nel mezzo, in the middle of life, in the middle of nowhere. He is also a man who has aged beautifully—Italian men and women know how to look good long after they've completely spent the gifts of youth. Castellitto, who is in the middle of his 50s (the director is in the first half of his 80s), also has great shoulders.
What is this film about? I really do not know. But whatever its meaning might be, we can guess that it is somehow connected to the deep parts of French/European culture and history.