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'Va Savoir'

French farce 'Va Savoir' takes its time

Friday, January 04, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Va Savoir," a French farce opening today at the Regent Square Theater, has a delightful payoff. But director Jacques Rivette takes forever -- or maybe it just seems that way, given the 150-minute running time -- meticulously laying the groundwork for the clever comic capper.

 
 
'Va Savoir'

RATING: PG-13 for brief nudity

STARRING: Jeanne Balibar, Sergio Castellitto

DIRECTOR: Jacques Rivette

WEB SITE: www.sonyclassics.com

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Watching "Va Savoir" is like spending 2 or 2 1/4 hours putting together a puzzle and finally snapping the right pieces into place in the last 15 minutes. Was the buildup worth it? I thought not, but "Va Savoir" (which translates to "Who Knows?") was the opening-night selection at the New York Film Festival and some moviegoers will enjoy the process as much as the payoff.

The film is set in Paris, as an Italian theater troupe is preparing for a short run of Pirandello's "As You Desire Me" starring Camille (Jeanne Balibar) and also featuring her lover, fellow actor and director, Ugo (Sergio Castellitto). Advance sales are low, and Camille is gripped by anxiety -- although we soon realize her real trepidation is about drama off-stage, not on.

She hasn't been in Paris for three years and decides she must look up her old boyfriend, Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffe). As she frets about Pierre, a philosophy professor still working on his thesis about Heidegger, Ugo is preoccupied with an obsession of his own. He is searching for a play supposedly written by an 18th-century playwright, but never published -- and since long lost.

Completing the daisy chain of characters: A pretty young woman named Do (Helene De Fougerolles) who is helping Ugo; Do's half-brother, Arthur (Bruno Todeschini), a smooth but untrustworthy gigolo; the siblings' mother (Catherine Rouvel), who has a cake or cookies for every occasion; and Pierre's wife, Sonia (Marianne Basler), a ballet teacher with secrets in her past and present.

As Camille takes the stage to deliver lines such as, "I gave myself to you. I'm here, I'm yours," while staring into the half-empty audience at Pierre, the romantic longings begin to shift and pull the characters in new directions. Sexual attraction, jealousy, greed and a desire for revenge erupt like solar flares. The movie, however, proceeds at a very leisurely pace.

"Va Savoir" burns brightest in the final 20 minutes, when illusion collides with reality and the Shakespearean line about how "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players" seems most appropriate.

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