Plumb Lines

April 13, 2009

Monday Movie Still: Va Savoir

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 5:38 pm

From Jacques Rivette’s 2001 film Va Savoir, which isn’t nearly as beloved by critics as it should be (though what do I know?), perhaps because it’s light-hearted–one of the many extraneous signifiers that critics latch onto as an indicator of unserious film, trying and failing to hit the intersubjective mark. Anyhow, like all the Rivette I’ve seen, the film is full of sequences lavishing attention on the minutest physical motions of the characters. At times this becomes almost like ballet, and it’s as delightful to me as anything I’ve ever seen filmed. These scenes don’t retain their beauty as stills, however, so I present this frame:


Two elements to note:

The framing of the doorway. This shot introduces a scene, and the viewer is instantly invited to pay attention to the door, which the character is scrupulously not looking at. The character stays motionless for several seconds (only her eyeballs move), and these seconds of motionlessness are all Rivette needs to tell us that she’s waiting for the door to open.

The character is looking directly at us, though it might be hard to tell at this level of resolution. While the plot is sufficiently surreal, the film’s presentation is  thoroughly naturalistic. Like Rohmer, Rivette almost entirely eschews non-diegetic music and close-ups. The only exception Rivette allows in Va Savoir is the direction of this particular character’s gaze, which turns to the camera several times during the film. More oddly still, only her actual eyes move, and quite deliberately. If a character is facing the camera directly, it’s easy not to feel looked at. When her head is turned 90 degrees from the camera, as in this frame, and her eyes are nonetheless directed at us, the effect is unusual. Repeated throughout the film at significant moments, eerie.

(next week: a film that isn’t French!)

David Schaengold


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