A theatrical couple arrive in Paris for a production of Pirandellos As You Desire Me. But while she is tempted to rekindle an old flame, hes falling for the student whos helping him track down a missing manuscript that could make his fortune.
Running at just 156 minutes, this is something of a sprint rather than the usual marathon for Jacques Rivette. Never one to hurry a tale worth telling, the veteran French New-Waver spread existential mystery Out One over almost 13 hours and even then the edited version, Out One: Spectre, still lasted 255 minutes.
So this is something of a miniature, but not only in terms of running time. It's nowhere near as intellectually dense as many of Rivette's previous works. But it is a perfect precis of the themes and situations that have preoccupied this most meticulous of directors for over 40 years.
The loudest echoes emanate from Celine And Julie Go Boating and La Belle Noiseuse, as Rivette revisits such perennial ideas as the link between artifice and life, the intuitive bond between women, the vagaries of love and the pleasure of pursuit (both cerebral and sexual). But there's nothing stale or nostalgic about his conclusions.
What is old-fashioned, however, is the care taken to produce a narrative that's light, literate and alive. Although they explore the key notions of concealment and identity, the excerpts from the play-within-the-film are slightly disingenuous. The Pirandello work to which Rivette is really most indebted is Six Characters In Search Of An Author as Camille's feelings for philosopher Pierre tempt him to stray from wife Sonia, who is, in turn, contemplating an affair with the roguish Arthur (Bruno Todeschini), whose jealousy prevents half-sister Dominigue committing herself to Ugo, whose obsession with the missing manuscript stifles physical urges.
It's slight, contrived and conceited. But, oh, for more films as flawed as this one.
Rivette again proves himself to be the most literate of the New Wave masters with an ensemble piece so precise that its very theatricality seems wholly cinematic.