Interlocking romantic misadventures beget both amusement and broken hearts in "Va Savior," a City of Lights charmer with a semi-serious edge and several superb performances.
Directed by Jaques Rivette ("The Gang of Four"), the film's affairs are set in motion by the arrival of an Italian theatre company in Paris to put on a production of Luigi Pirandello's "As You Desire Me" (which plays to half-full houses). The star of the show is 30-something Camille (Jeanne Balibar), a French actress who left Paris three years ago after a bad breakup with her pretentious professor boyfriend Pierre (Jaques Bonnaffe).
Since then, Camille has become half-heartedly involved with her director and co-star (Sergio Castellitto), a middle-aged litterateur, while Pierre has married a beautiful ballet teacher (Marianne Basler). But now in the same city again, they seem self-destructively unable to resist each other's gravity. Camille doesn't want Pierre back, but needing an ego boost, she wants to gauge his interest in her -- which quickly drives him to obsessive behavior.
At the same time, their significant others are having other options dangled in front of their noses as well. Pursuing a preoccupation with a long-lost 18th-Century play, Camille's actor-director beau meets a beautiful young bookworm (Helene De Fourgerolles) whose family library may hold the missing volume. By coincidence, the bookworm's disreputable brother is pursuing the ballet teacher.
"Va Savoir" (aka "Who Knows?") mixes and matches within this shrinking 6-degree circle as the characters pass in and out of each other's lives and beds while their emotions wax and wane.
Rivette maintains a jocular atmosphere even as people's feathers get ruffled in this increasingly complicated romantic roundelay. Even when Pierre and Camille's co-star come to blows, there's a sense of whimsy to the proceedings. "200 years ago we would have settled this in a duel with pistols," grouses Pierre. "I miss those days."
They still "duel," however -- by climbing to a high catwalk in the theater and getting fractured on vodka. The first one to fall to his death shall lose, they proclaim as the booze turns them unexpectedly chummy.
Rivette doesn't allow for a lot of specificity in "Va Savoir" -- which is ironic since at 150 minutes you'd think there'd be time for details. People decide they're in love after one night together, but those feelings aren't examined. Others who Rivette would have us believe are truly falling in love seem more like they're just playfully flirting. And the finale is wrapped up a little too neatly for all the broken hearts it leaves scattered about.
The film boasts its strongest, most sincere emotions in Balibar's elegant performance as the discontented Camille -- so thick with nuance that you can tell when her stage performances have been effected by the events of her life. Bits and pieces of the play itself collectively consume a whole reel of film, and I didn't entirely understand what purpose that served. I assume there were parallels being drawn, but if there were I missed them. Perhaps if I'd been familiar with the play....
Yet despite such shortcomings, those 150 minutes just fly by because these characters are a delight to spend time with. Whether they're happy, sad or indifferent -- and whether or not those feelings seem too vague -- "Va Savoir" is lively, obliging entertainment nonetheless.