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Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002

Love in a galaxy so far, far away

Va savoir

Rating: * * * *
Japanese title: Koigokoro
Director: Jacques Rivette
Running time: 155 minutes
Language: French
Now showing

Here it is again, another French film that tells you, in meticulous detail, what the hell is wrong with your life. That it's not . . . languorous enough. Sensuous enough. Not dotted with enough sweet, romantic moments interspersed with occasional pouty outbursts ("Oh, merde!") like in this movie.

News photo
Sergio Castellitto and Jeanne Balibar in "Va savoir"

OK, no, if you simply must know, I don't lie around in bed until midday, wrapped in Quatre Saison sheets, and watching the play of light on my small, exquisite Chagall painting which was a Valentine's gift from . . . Jean Pierre? Jean-Jacques? Jean-Claude? Oh (yawn), how stupid of me to forget.

Every time I see one of these French jobs, I am prodded by an immediate urge to call every French person I know and ask: "Is that what life is like in France and if so, why are you here?" Once more, my entire circle of French acquaintances (total of five) were at the receiving end of another cinema-triggered hysteria and you'd think they get tired of this, but they never do. They just get all smug and ready to sing the Marseillaise right into the phone. I can feel it. Oh, the unfairness of it all, I think, as tears stream down my cheeks.

"Va savoir (Who Knows?)" is the title of this cinematic anxiety-attack. The director is Jacques Rivette ("La Belle noiseuse"), whose only intention was to make a substantial, deep, adult comedy about love. He does this with Shakespearean perfection with a small, select ensemble of characters -- balancing their sorrows and joys, subtly pitting one wit against the other and in the end, putting nice, shy smiles on everyone's faces.

Indeed, "Va savoir" has a bit of "A Midsummer-Night's Dream" to it, a charming other-worldliness (in spite of its being set in current times) most of us has lost touch with, being too busy standing at cash machines and subway platforms and shouting into cell phones at the same time. It should be noted that no one in "Va savoir" deigns to touch a cell phone. The most Rivette permits in terms of technology is a small, elegant laptop. Just one.

Anyway, "Va savoir" is about love. Not your Sears-Roebuck, I-Do-Forever-and-Ever kind of love but the fragile, vulnerable love of adults who are fully aware of its fragility/vulnerability and are a little frightened. Three couples figure into the schematics: Camille (Jeanne Balibar) and Ugo (Sergio Castellitto), Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffe) and Sonia (Marianne Basler), Dominique (Helene de Fougerolles) and Arthur (Bruno Todeschini).

In a single midsummer week in Paris, the three couples meet, interact and undergo subtle shifts in their respective chemistries. No fireworks or grand, passionate confessions but a series of incidents that Rivette juggles with wonderful skill and insight, keeping everything suspended until the end when all the balls come to rest in his two hands. Curtain. Thunderous applause.

Camille is a Frenchwoman who is back in Paris for the first time in three years. She has been working/living in Italy, with her director boyfriend Ugo, but now he is taking their theater troupe on an extended tour and Paris is the first stop. This has made Camille so nervous, she botches her lines on opening night. This city has too many memories for her: mostly in the form of an ex named Pierre.

Camille can't help going to see him (now living with Sonia, a ballet instructor), then sending him tickets for her performance. Pierre shows up, then invites Ugo and her for dinner. This rekindling of a past relationship throws both Ugo and Sonia off-balance, causing them to seek brief diversion elsewhere. Ugo hooks up with the young and lovely Dominique and Sonia allows herself to be seduced by the young and sleazy Arthur. Then it turns out that Arthur and Dominique are half-siblings who have an extremely flirtatious relationship.

All this unfolds against the hot and lazy streets of Paris, where trees rustle their leaves along the St. Germain des Pres and the women go about in sleeveless, neckless, backless, floral-print summer dresses. Oh, sigh. And does anyone slave away at a keyboard in a cubicle under florescent lighting? Heck, no.

Ugo, for instance, is preoccupied with an obscure play by Goldoni, penned in the mid-18th century and stored in the dusty rare-book collection at Dominique's mother's house. Dominique is preoccupied with seducing Ugo (and he meets her halfway). Camille wanders about, unsure whether she still loves Pierre or not. Pierre is certain that he still loves Camille and locks her up in the laundry room of his appartement so that she can never leave him again (she escapes through the skylight). Sonia knows all men are blockheads but loves Pierre anyway.

And you want to know the clincher? Not once does anyone say anything remotely close to: "I'm busy" or "I don't have time" or even consult a Filofax. In fact, no one even owns a Filofax! If only I can get my boyfriend to see this. But he's too busy.

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