This is a challenging film, and not merely due to its epic 13 hour run-time.
After the events of May ’68, Rivette reached out to cinema’s potential for transformation. He decided that cinema’s necessarily political nature (‘every film is political’) ought to be used to shake a viewer, to make them see something, or–at the least–to have an experience. For him, the experience of politically transformative cinema should leave the viewer a different person than he/she was before. After completion of his then longest film, the four hour L’amour fou (1969), Rivette set about a cinematic experiment wherein a viewer would be deliberately overwhelmed, perhaps violently, to a rather tedious but always conscious, always spontaneous, always alive, and never contrived form of cinema. This film was named Out 1: Noli me tangere, and it was rejected by French television due to its experimental nature. The film was screened modestly before being forgotten and almost lost, while a four hour version entitled Out 1: Spectre became available—a seemingly parsed down version which Rivette calls ‘another film entirely’.
Only recently did Out 1 receive restorative treatment and a Home Video release, prompting cinematheques everywhere to finally screen the almost lost film. In almost disturbing irony, the film screened in Vancouver shortly after Rivette’s death, somehow escalating the nature of the experience as well as its urgency.
While made for French Television, it is my opinion that Rivette’s ideal is not to watch Out 1 as 8 separate episodes, as they are fashioned, but as a single 13 hour film, taken in as a single experience on a single day (with some breaks perhaps). I intend to do this one day. For a man who spoke about the thrust of cinema, its violent transformative potential, and its unshakable hold on a person’s state of conscience, I can only imagine that the experiment would be more successful if the film was screened in the discomforting, overwhelming, violent manner of 13 uninterrupted hours.
Like many of Rivette’s films, Out 1 is full of puzzles and experiments, some of which the viewer is encouraged to join in on. On the surface, the film is about two seemingly independent theater groups who happen to be performing plays by Aeschylus, one takes on Prometheus, while the other takes on Seven Against Thebes. Experimental and performative, much of the film presents these theater groups working on exercises, from yoga-like routines to primal screaming to saying hello to a passerby. Each of these exercises seem to be aimed at a search for truthful and instinctive expression of character—a search for pure performative expressiveness. The actor is supposed to be so entrenched in their role that they act with instinct and spontaneity as opposed to acting on reason and logic. The performance is thereby meant to be more embodied.
Rivette was a major supporter of the performing arts, and it seems that these protracted exercises, most often shot in long, somewhat tedious takes, is a microcosm for his ideas about the transformative potential of cinema. The ability to let go and find yourself shaken by the experience is one he displays theatrically in order to convey it cinematically. After each exercise, the group members, especially those doing Prometheus, sit together and deconstruct their experience. They critique the experience in order to constructively shape their next exercise as well as to better understand each others’ experience in relation to their own. Similarly, I expect Rivette would like us to follow the experience of Out 1 by deconstructing how it affected us individually in order to discern the success and viability of his experiment at large.
These performance exercises occur more often and for extended periods in the earlier episodes. They can be rather difficult to enjoy, at least the first time through, though they are utterly fascinating. When you think one is over, Rivette cuts back and the chaos continues. At first I believed these scenes could be removed and it would have no detrimental effect on the overall film, but the more I watched the more I realized how integral these scenes are, if only to prime the viewer for what is to come, and to build tension around the plot which subtly builds in the background. These exercises are certainly the most experimental aspects of Out 1 and I believe they are the product of Rivette’s unscripted diagram driven direction.
What begins seemingly in the background which grows into the foreground are two separate stories of life without purpose. Colin (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and Frederique (Juliet Berto) are both drifters who take money from unsuspecting persons. Colin appears deaf and dumb, plays annoying harmonica, and coerces cafe patrons to give him change. Frederique uses her beauty and charms to woo men long enough to either convince them to give her money or she robs them. It is post May ’68, and they are really doing nothing but passing their time. Then they become pulled into a world of conspiracy, secrecy, and intellectual non-conformity. It takes about 5 hours of the film to get them there, but the wait is well worth the rewards. The plot begins to take shape and Rivette’s underlying political agenda makes subtle appearances. While remaining quite vague for nearly the entire rest of the film, a group called the 13 become known to Colin, who uses the philosophical writings he has been randomly given to best understand the purpose of their group. Frederique unwittingly becomes pulled in by the activity of the 13, and her naivete and dramatic personality leads to much confusion and misfortune.
It becomes known that the 13 is a group that began around the time of May ’68, based on intellectual idealism with a mandate to make a difference in society. They have disbanded, and the group members have gone their separate ways. The two theater groups were once one, when Thomas (Michael Lonsdale) and Lilli (Michèle Moretti), members of the 13, were involved in a relationship. Presumably the original group included several members of the 13, some of which remain with Thomas and some with Lilli, along with new performers who are left unawares.
A few members are never seen, such as Pierre—who is presumably the one behind all the current activity, Igor (Pauline’s husband), and George (Lilli’s boyfriend), and A few of the members remain a secret. Along with Pierre, Igor, and George, the other certain members of the 13 are Warok, Lucie, Etienne, Thomas, Lilli, Sarah, Emilie/Pauline, and Marie (likely). This makes 11, and while the remaining two members are likely from the original theater group, and could be either in the Prometheus or Seven Against Thebes group, it seems that Rivette wants us to understand that Colin and Frederique, while not actually part of the 13, could have been part of the 13. That these outsiders going about everyday life could be transformed by their unwitting political experiences, and they could be shaped in such a way as to hold the ideals of the 13 without actually being a part of the group itself.
Some of the best acting in cinema may be found in Out 1. Not only are the theatrical performers astonishing in their experimental roles, but Jean-Pierre Leaud and Juliet Berto provide career best performances, with Leaud’s character Colin easily going down as one of the most fascinating characters put to film. I could literally watch him playing harmonica and reciting literature for hours. Out 1 is also deceivingly well shot in glorious 16mm. Though much of the film employs conventional static long takes, the use of camera movement along the roads, and the remarkable intercutting of separate storylines raises the film to higher cinematic achievements tantamount to its high achievements in narration and experimentation.
Ultimately the film is rather simple: two theater groups perform Aeschylus, some were once members of a semi-secret group of intellectual idealists, and a seemingly crazy boy with bizarre ideas and actions forces them to reconnect. This occurs over 13 protracted hours, wherein the wait, the confusion, and the will to solve the puzzle becomes part of one’s overwhelming experience of what may only be called a masterfully crafted cinematic experiment.
97/100 – Masterful.