Jacques Rivette’s enduring fascination with theatre takes a left turn in Around a Small Mountain: after his sombre Don’t Touch the Axe, who would have expected a circus film? This fresh, gently acidic comedy begins with a chance encounter between an Englishwoman, Kate (Birkin), and an Italian traveller, Vittorio (Castellitto). Learning that Kate is in the Languedoc region to rejoin her old circus troupe, Vittorio decides to hang around and discover the delights of the Big Top. He becomes equally intrigued by the secret that led Kate to leave the circus under a cloud, and by the troupe’s hangdog clowns and their somewhat Beckettian crockery routine. Of a piece with other Rivette musings on the stage, most recently 2001’s Va savoir, this succinct, elegantly acted film is very much a contemplation of performance and the art of timing, in life as on the stage. This is Rivette’s lightest film, without a doubt, but it’s possibly also one of his best. And it’s not often that you get to see Jane Birkin walking a tightrope. —BFI
Jacques Rivette was born in Rouen in 1928. In 1950, he began attending the Cine-Club du Quartier Latin in Paris, and contributed articles to its bulletin, the Gazette du Cinema, edited by Eric Rohmer. During this time he embarked on his career as a filmmaker with his first short films, Aux Quatre Coins (1950), Le Quadrille (1950), and Le Divertissement (1952).
Rivette’s friendship with Rohmer led him to begin writing articles for the new film journal Cahiers du Cinema. Here he met and became friends with Claude Chabrol, Francois Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard. At Cahiers he became one of the first to champion contemporary American cinema as opposed to the staid French “cinema of quality”, then prevalent. He became known as a fierce advocate of the auteur theory and praising the work of such directors as Howard Hawks, Nicholas Ray, John Ford, and Robert Aldritch.
In the mid-1950’s he continued his filmmaking education by serving as an assistant… read more
A slight sketch from a master of artful sprawl, Around a Small Mountain is perhaps slightly too comfortable -- not to say, I promise, self-satisfied -- with its classically Rivette hybrid of cryptic whimsy and philosophical mystery to rank with the director's greatest works. It is, in almost every respect, a small film. Still, the circus -- both within and outside the ring -- serves as a fine metaphor for the performance of intimacy, and the intimacy of performance.
the first film i've seen from director Jacques Rivette. the film centers around a traveling circus playing in mountain villages to very small audiences. the film explore the characters' grief, search, regret and redemption; employing a mixture of drama, whimsical comedy and abstract romance.. i get all that. but unfortunately it didn't speak to me; could be because i'm not accustomed to Rivette's style
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Left: Jane Birkin in Jacques Rivette's Around a Small Mountain (2009); cinematography by Irina Lubtchansky and William Lubtchansky. Right
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