Around a Small Mountain

Italian traveler Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto) accepts Kate's (Jane Birkin) invitation to come see her family's traveling circus after he helps her restart her stalled car. Already smitten with Kate, he falls under the threadbare big top's spell as well, postponing his trip to Barcelona to hang out with the clowns and acrobats. When he discovers that Kate-who just rejoined the troupe after a long absence-used to walk the high wire and amaze the audience with a whip act but now fears even entering the ring, he is determined to uncover the reason behind her stage fright and see her perform again. Jacques Rivette, a director known for movies of epic length, surprises with his latest, a compact drama that clocks in at just eighty-four minutes. On full display within this enigmatic tale are the filmmaker's love of improvisation and the theater (here transformed into the rickety, barely thriving circus where the narrative occasionally pauses so that the acts may perform directly to the camera), as well as a kind of melancholy, as the grief and guilt that have carried Kate so far from her performing days cast a spell over the story. Rivette regular Birkin is mesmerizing as a woman used to closing herself off who awakens slowly to life's possibilities. The film is also full of humor, mystery, and subtle romance, along with a valedictory tone. If this is, indeed, the eighty-two-year-old director's swan song, he exits at the top of his game.

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