Around A Small Mountain
Jacques Rivette’s Around A Small Mountain (36 Vues Du Pic Saint Loup) is an enigmatic riff about two strangers whose lives collide under the big top. It has been 15 years since the terrible accident that caused Kate (Jane Birkin, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s mom) to run away from her father’s modest traveling circus. A letter from her sister brings her cautiously back, but on the way to Pic Saint-Loup her car breaks down. Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto) stops to assist. She invites him to watch her perform, but explains that the circus rarely draws a crowd. During the performance Vittorio is the only one applauding and laughing, startling even the clowns.
Intrigued by Kate, Vittorio decides to follow the circus to the next town. The relationship that forms isn’t necessarily romantic. Haunted by her past, Kate has lived like a disembodied spirit, wandering the wastes of memory. Vittorio, though in way similarly dislocated, arrives as a guide, attempting to give Kate directions to The Light. Their conversations, cryptic as they sometimes are, have a genuine sense of interest and discovery about them. No banter. No chitchat. They talk like old friends who can’t stand to see each other’s suffering.
None of this plays out in a typical fashion, of course, as this is still a Jacques Rivette film.
Rivette is one of the founders of the French New Wave and is still churning out thoughtful work at 82. I’m always fascinated by how the surviving Nouvelle Vague directors see the world in their later years. Though his style has obviously evolved, Rivette’s cinema is still rooted in experimental gestures and charming stylizations. Around A Small Mountain will certainly repel many of those unfamiliar with the auteur’s mode of expression, but more patient observers will notice the moving visual throughlines that permeate the film. Around A Small Mountain is a great example of a master filmmaker in a playful mood.
Note: When I received the film for review, I was surprised to see its 84-minute running time. Rivette is not known for his brevity, although his films rarely overstay their welcome.
Around A Small Mountain comes to DVD in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The disc is dual-layered, progressive and has an average video bitrate of 5.67Mbps.
Cinema Guild has delivered a splendid transfer. Detail is strong and colors are accurate and nicely rendered. The film’s grain structure, though slightly lost on DVD, is still present. Black levels are solid, though some noise persists in darker scenes. Expected artifacts are mostly unobtrusive, with only mild aliasing rearing its head from time to time. All in all, this is a genuinely pleasing effort.
Around A Small Mountain is presented here with a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 448Kbps. English subtitles are presented in glorious white.
I’m still without a functioning surround system, so I cannot remark on the 5.1 mix. Thankfully, Cinema Guild has also provided a 2.0 mix, which I suspect is the more accurate track. Regardless, the 2-channel mix sounds very good, with clear dialogue and strong atmospherics. The subtitles, however, are a bit clunky. The translation omits words from time to time and there are a few grammar issues. It shouldn’t hinder your enjoyment of the film, though. Hopefully Cinema Guild will correct this in the (hint, hint) future Blu-ray release.
The commentary features film scholar Chris Fujiwara. Mr. Fujiwara is a learned and pleasant speaker who offers good insight into this and other Rivette films. And I respect a speaker who discusses in ideas rather than absolutes.
Interview with Jane Birkin (9min):
Here we have a great interview with Jane Birkin. She discusses everything from her first meeting with Rivette to her daughter’s role in Antichrist.
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