This video essay collaboration on Jacques Rivette's Out 1 is the second entry in the Out 1 Video Essay Project commissioned by the Melbourne International Film Festival. The first entry, by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin, can be found here.
The following "messages" were sent to Kevin B. Lee as part of the preparatory work for our video Out 1 Solitaire:
Part of the impact of Out 1 derives from the way it captures several aspects of transatlantic 60s counterculture, but the differences between North America and France during this period are telling. Psychedelic drug culture hadn't yet made many discernible inroads, although things we associate with that culture—especially LSD trips and changing perceptions of duration—seem present in some form, especially in Colin's solipsistic fantasies and preoccupations and some of the "tribal" rituals of the theater group's exercises. Politics were also perceived differently, above all because of the experience of May 1968 and all that it represented.
Class plays an important role with both Colin and Frédérique. As we discover when we hear Colin on the phone with his parents, he seems to come from a middle-class background, matching in some respects the characters of Antoine Doinel (especially after The 400 Blows) and his role in Masculin-Féminin; Frédérique is defiantly and proudly working-class, as she is in La Chinoise. For him, the "13" is a literary puzzle derived from Lewis Carroll and Balzac; for her it functions as a means for extracting money via extortion and/or blackmail. They each inhabit fantasies, but his are intellectual and "high" literary whereas hers are seemingly derived from pop culture and its pulpy literary sources. Both qualify as highly physical actors whose gestures evoke silent cinema—not only because of Colin's muteness, although that helps; Berto has her own arsenal of disguises and impersonations, which similarly evoke all the duplicitous characters in Feuillade serials. Some of their encounters with strangers are flirtatious (e.g., Berto with Doniol-Valcroze and Stévenin; Léaud with Ogier), and their means of being flirtatious is often to behave like children.
Léaud and Berto are two of the actors most identified with the New Wave, along with Lafont, Fabian, and Rohmer (not to mention other writers identified with Cahiers du Cinéma: Michel Delahaye, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and—in one scene—Bernard Eisenschitz). In some respects, the "13" evokes Cahiers' "Conseil des Dix"—or, more precisely, the clique of Young Turks associated with the Cahiers, outsiders who dream of becoming insiders.
Rivette himself was known during the 60s and 70s as a solitaire, almost always attending films alone, and most often living alone (although he's briefly glimpsed with Marilú Parolini as her boyfriend in Rouch's Chronicle of a Summer), so it seems somehow appropriate that he was the one who wrote—even handwrote—all of the messages intercepted by Colin; as he liked to point out in some interviews, these messages are in fact the only things in Out 1 that he wrote. Rivette told me in one of his interviews that Out 1 was conceived in some ways as a critique of Paris Nous Appartient—especially the paranoid notion of a conspiracy—so in many ways Leaud functions in Out 1 as an autocritique of his younger self, while Berto is the sort of hustler he never could be (but who some of his colleagues, like Chabrol and Truffaut and perhaps even Godard, learned how to be). He also verges on the brink of madness, like many of Rivette's other characters (most clearly Ogier and Kalfon in L'amour fou), so it seems appropriate that some of the messages he receives verge on nonsense (or that portions of his eventual dialogue with Lafont is literally played backwards, creating a comparable sort of babble). Like Berto's character to some extent, he oscillates between believing that everything has meaning and is significant and believing that nothing has meaning or significance. In both cases, the "13" functions as a pretext for finding meaning and significance, which means that both characters offer grotesque parodies of the viewers of the film and their own dilemmas. The same goes for Lonsdale in his final scene on the beach.