Out 1

Out 1 ★★

I understand why it's so beloved, and I can easily imagine that if I saw it in a cinema - if I could survive seeing it in a cinema - it would be entrancing. Watched over a week and a half on streaming sites, though, Jacques Rivette's infamous twelve-and-a-half hour epic feels more like a symptom than an exploration of post-'68 aimlessness, the sad spectacle of a great director casting about for some sort of a thread, some kind of organising principle to follow. There are connections and reversals that are interesting, but by the time you've waded through all the dead air in between them, the effect has worn off. The resurrection (of the Left? Of Rivette himself?) promised by its subtitle seems some way off.

Rivette reluctantly produced a four-hour cut for commercial (!) reasons, always adamant that the length of the film was part of its meaning. That approach makes sense in the plot strand where Jean-Pierre Léaud plays perhaps the most determinedly interior character outside first-person literature, looking for some kind of overarching master conspiracy in the works of Balzac. "All we know of Balzac's inspiration is provided by Balzac", says Éric Rohmer in his cameo as a literary professor, tipping the viewer off to the universe of circular reasoning and self-contained ideology Léaud is about to get lost in.

The problem is this: if you can get one of your big ideas across in a sentence, how do you fill the rest of the twelve hours? Or, to refer to Rivette's own canon, what does this offer that his very similar debut Paris Belongs to Us doesn't, other than colour film stock and ten more hours? Rivette is clearly interested in showing processes at work, most obviously in the plot strands involving two theatre groups rehearsing. One of them is slowly taken over by a sinister, dictatorial figure, and I can appreciate that the film's length allows this to be shown as a slow, creeping decline rather than something more melodramatic. Unfortunately, the theatre rehearsals are the worst part of the film - even its fiercest partisans admit that the rehearsals in the first two chapters can be trying. For me, the magic moment when they stop being intensely irritating never came.

If nothing else, Out 1 is a beautiful film: the beach scene is a particularly good example of Rivette's attitude to long, mobile takes, namely that you should only notice them once they cut. I also loved the bright green, sunny fields that suddenly surface in chapter 7, as though Rivette was already working out his aesthetic for the opening of Celine and Julie Go Boating. Throughout, I waited for a moment as magical as that opening scene, but it never came, largely because one of the pleasures of that moment is in its editing, the simple pleasure of placing a character and their point of view one after the other.

Walter Murch always says that the brain should logically reject editing, that there is nothing in nature that can approximate the instantaneous cut from one scene to another. The reason why it doesn't, I think, is because it's how we remember things: non-linear, connection to connection. It's something I rarely think about until I see a film with very few cuts, and find it either monumental (like Kiarostami) or lacking (like this). I had joked about Rivette being the father of the box-set binge-watch before seeing this, and was amused to see the "Previously, on Out 1..." montages that opened each episode. But in the end Out 1 frustrated me for the same reason those huge American TV shows do; they confuse better storytelling with more storytelling, and end up baggy, shapeless and self-indulgent.

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