Dan Fainaru in Screen on Jacques Rivette's Around a Small Mountain (36 vues du Pic Saint Loup): "The latest from the French New Wave master, a short by his own standards, teams a desolate Jane Birkin with a mysterious Sergio Castellitto - it starts with him fixing her car and ends with his mending her soul. Reworking once again his favorite theme of life versus art and indulging in his affection for long, elegant sequence shots and witty double-entendres, this will delight his fanbase as much as it will annoy his regular critics."
"The theater has been a recurrent theme and setting in Rivette's oeuvre (Out 1, Love on the Ground) probably because his working method, which heavily relies on improvisation, naturally suggests that the porous dividing line between actor and character is rich in tensions and passions." Boyd van Hoeij in Variety: "Though the setting in Around a Small Mountain is not the theater but a small family circus, the basic rules of performance, improvisation and showmanship still apply."
"36 vues du Pic Saint Loup is a small film," writes Cristina Nord in die tageszeitung, "a little old-fashioned, like the traveling circus, but that's what makes it whole. It circles around a traumatic event, moves away from it, touches on it again and then tosses it away like a cat playing with a mouse instead of eating it. Towards the end, the film bites after all: the fire swallower snaps a whip directly in front of Kate [Birkin]; the leather cuts a newspaper - 15 years ago, it'd cut a throat. It's surely no coincidence that the newspaper, Le Canard enchaîné, is a satirical one, but you believe Kate's shock blind."
Updates, 9/8: Pedro Armocida at Cineuropa: "A seemingly light-hearted film, it is as profound as life itself, where the past returns 'but is nonetheless past,' where we put on masks and paint our faces like clowns, where the stage on which we perform every day is, like a circus ring, 'the most dangerous place in the world,' where we get used to our pain (because it is always comforting, in a sense) and where 'nothing is everything' (the film is, on first sight, constructed from nothing...). And, above all, where it is important that audiences (made up of other people), laugh at the performances of the clowns (i.e., us), thus sharing their lives. This is the only way to ensure that, as in the film's ending, 'all's well that ends well.'"
"Rivette has acknowledged that the idea for the film came about while he was making La Belle Noiseuse in 1991, and this new work displays a similar curiosity not only about the details of how art comes into being, but how it effects those performing or creating it," writes David Jenkins in Time Out London. "Though often wryly amusing, the overriding feeling is one of sadness as the humble art of live performance slowly slips away, and the technologies and responsibilities of the modern age encroach. Perhaps the film is also an allegory for the passing of a time when cinematic spectacle was a simple pleasure born of people with dexterity, charisma and passion for performing for the camera."
Variety's Nick Vivarelli reports that Castellitto is preparing to direct two projects in Italy.
Update, 9/10: "With no chemistry between leads Jane Birkin and Sergio Castellito, a lack of dramatic tension and a ring with three lame acts but no lions or trapeze, this is a circus that won't travel very far," predicts Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter.
Update, 9/29: "Around a Small Mountain isn't one of the great Jacques Rivette films, but it shares a lot of qualities with the director's best work," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant: "a heady sense of play, an air of mystery, and a preoccupation with improvisation as a way for characters to create meaning and shape their own narratives."
Updates, 10/1: "Jacques Rivette moves into the light with a gentle, simple masterwork," writes Daniel Kasman here at The Auteurs.
Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York: "Rivette's cinema - with its obsessive interest in actors and naturally occurring prosceniums - has always been indebted to the theater. Around a Small Mountain is his way of giving thanks before the curtain finally falls."
Update, 10/4: Damon Smith in Reverse Shot: "Reviewing Gang of Four for Cahiers du cinéma in 1989, the late philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote that Jacques Rivette's project is 'a cinema that opposes its theatricality to that of theater, its reality to that of the world, which has become unreal.' That's as succinct a formulation of the great director's body of work as we are likely to get, and one that applies just as well to his latest drama, a whimsical eulogy of sorts to the New Wave icon's treasured theme of life-as-performance."
Updates, 10/7: "Around a Small Mountain (36 Vues de Pic Saint Loup, or 36 Views of Saint Wolf Peak, is the original title) isn't Rivette's deepest work, nor is it his 'most abstract,' as one critic has asserted," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "But for anyone familiar with the director's back catalog, it's another one of his enchanting late-career divertimentos, rewarding the careful viewer with an airy, open-ended meditation on the grand illusions of time."
Richard Brody in the New Yorker: "Elements of the past bubble to the surface and the clowning turns deadly serious as Rivette elaborates a new twist on his lifelong theme: the inseparability of identity from acting, of life from theatre."
James Hansen wishes it were longer: "I would have loved to spend another hour or two really getting lost in the fascinating world that Rivette establishes."
Update, 10/10: "[T]he French maestro has reintroduced the primacy of fictional worlds to his film, which in this instance characteristically spill out into the world beyond the big top," writes Michael J Anderson. "In totality, Around a Small Mountain serves as an organically motivated signature for its author, with the added qualification that Rivette no longer insists on the exceptional duration of his best known work."
Update, 10/13: Celia Walden talks with Jane Birkin for the Telegraph.
Update, 10/17: "Alternating sequences between the performers and their performances that allude to their interchangeability, Rivette creates a poignant metaphor for life as human comedy and ever-changing spectacle," writes Acquarello.