Film Review

Around a Small Mountain

todayJuly 20, 2023 92 5

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of Jacques Rivette, Jane Birkin, poetic and talkative cinema

Jacques Rivette remains one of the titans of the French New Wave.  Along with Jean-Luc Goddard, Francois Truffaut, and Eric Rohmer, Rivette started as a writer for Cahiers Du Cinema during the late 1950’s and went on to change the way cinema was seen and made. He made epic, lengthy examinations of humanity including the nearly 11 hour film OUT 1. He was famous for stating “all films are about theater.There is no other subject.” This attitude is prevalent in all his films as they explore the nature of performance in a variety of expressions.  In the case of his final film, Around a Small Mountain, he uses a small family circus in France as a means to explore how escaping reality by joining the circus can be both a reality and a metaphor.

Released in 2010 when Rivette was 82, and running at a crisp 84 minutes, it is a great entry point for those who have been a bit daunted by his longer films.  It stars the late Jane Birkin, who had previously worked with Rivette twice before, most notably in his masterpiece La Belle Noiseuse, a 4 hour examination of the relationship between a sculptor and his model. Around a Small Mountain is small in size but it deals with grand emotions and ideas.  It is a simple story told well.  It begins with a long sequence without words.  Jane Birkin’s character Kate is trying to fix her broken down car in the remote roads of mountainous France.  Along comes a Porsche driven by Vittorio played by the great director/actor from Italy. Like Kate, Vittorio appears to be lost and looking for meaning.  He fixes her car silently and they meet up again in the small town that her family circus will be performing in that evening.  Her father has died and she has returned after being away for 15 years.  We never really get the story of Vittorio but that is not important.  What is vital, is that these two characters connect and help each other find meaning and ways to overcome tragedy.  There are many long conversations, but as in all great films, often what is not said is even more powerful.

Jane Birkin’s performance is devastatingly powerful and I believe her greatest performance, although admittedly I do need all of her films.  However, I am doubtful that there will be another opportunity like the one she had in her collaboration with Jacques Rivette.  He knew going in that this would be his final film and it is reflective in the precise direction and mise-en-scene.  It is unusual that his last film is his shortest, but it could be seen as an epilogue to his career.  It is not hard to see the parallels between the performance of the actors and his own contribution to the theater of cinema.  I sought out this film after the recent passing of Birkin and I am tremendously glad that I did. Jane Birkin’s film career is often overshadowed by her connections to her partners and her contributions to fashion.  This is an important reminder that she had an equally vital contribution to film

Available to stream on MUBI

Written by: Gareth Jones

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