Stage of life
Va Savoir is a freewheeling, amusing look at romance and theater
Much of Va Savoir looks like an offbeat combination of romantic comedy and bedroom farce, but its quirky digressions and modernist mysteriousness make it into something even bigger and even better.
As directed by veteran French New Waver Jacques Rivette, this amiably cerebral comedy begins and ends on the Paris stage, where an Italian theater troupe is doing a production of Pirandello’s As You Desire Me. Bits and pieces of the Pirandello production turn up in the course of the action, but the main focus is on the entanglements, romantic and otherwise, of assorted couples—including especially two members of the theater troupe, the actor-director Ugo (Sergio Castillitto) and the French-born actress Camille (Jeanne Balibar).
Ugo and Camille are husband and wife, but they occupy separate bedrooms while on tour. Camille is nervous about her return to the Paris stage and even more on edge over the question of whether to visit her ex-lover Pierre. Ugo, meanwhile, is also prowling in obscure Parisian libraries in quest of the “lost” manuscript of an 18th-century play.
Soon enough, Camille finds the philosophical Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffe) ensconced with a dancer named Sonia (Marianne Basler), and Ugo’s browsing leads to relationships with the flirtatious student Dominique (Hèléne de Fougerolles) and her devious half-brother Arthur (Bruno Todeschini).
By the time Ugo and Pierre engage in a farcical duel over Camille, a rambunctious assortment of seductions, infidelities, postponements, near-misses and temporary odd-couplings have developed among the film’s half-dozen noteworthy characters. A subplot involving a ring that is stolen and restolen intersects with the seductions and counterpoints the stuff about missing manuscripts.
Freewheeling romantic comedy lingers as this film’s chief delight, but Va Savoir is also an amusing look at theater and acting and a sidelong rumination on identity and nationality. And its moments of Pirandellian enigma seem a motivation for its frisky mixture of conventional comedy and fragmented storytelling.
The love stories look familiar, but Rivette intercuts their separate events in a paradoxical way that makes them seem both predictable and unexpected. And the plot seems to resolve itself and unravel simultaneously.
Balibar’s portrayal of Camille is especially sharp and appealing, but all of the performances in Va Savoir have a special charm and interest. Even the erstwhile starlet Catherine Rouvel, who plays the mother of Dominique and Arthur here, seems to be both playing a part and participating in age-old festivities that are essential to theater and cinema alike.
The title, by the way, is translated as "Who Knows?" in the subtitles. But "Go Figure" might better serve the film’s skittish and playful premises.