At close to thirteen hours in length, Out 1 (1971) is director Jacques Rivette's most challenging and complicated film; mixing elements of topical social debate, character comedy and narrative self-reference alongside thematic elements lifted from Honoré de Balzac's epic collection of inter-linked novels, La Comédie humaine, updated to a contemporary French setting. I was lucky enough to see the film in its full, uncut form at the London NFT back in April 2006, having no prior experience with Rivette's work at that particular time, but being told that as a fan of Jean Luc Godard, his style should be right up my street. Since then, I've seen two other films by Rivette - the frantic farce of Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) and the more reflective, though somewhat arduous La Belle Noiseuse (1991) - both of which are similarly unwieldy in length and filled with a variety of deconstructive narrative tricks that are self-reflexive in design.
Without wishing to take too much away from Rivette, the presentation of Out 1 suggests certain similarities to Godard's underrated political satire La Chinoise (1967); with the emphasis on a group of disparate characters attempting to uncover some hidden truth (here through the art of performance) that is contrasted against a topical, socially-aware backdrop of contemporary Parisian existence. The self-referential idea of a film about performers putting on a performance created by performers (etc) is exploited throughout by Rivette, who captures the proceedings in an uncomplicated, technically progressive approach that mixes elements of documentary-like investigation, cinéma vérité type deconstruction and a more experimental sense of abstraction that intensifies as a result of the film's hypnotic, languorous rhythm. According to most sources, the film was made without a script - again, something that Godard would occasionally claim to have attempted, though in reality was far too much of a domineering perfectionist to really adhere to - and the shambolic, formless improvisations, uncomplicated mise-en-scene and obviously unrehearsed moments of filming on the streets of Paris would all conform to this idea; with the film featuring a number of accidental technical errors that have been deliberately left in the final cut in order to alienate us further from the story and its characters.
These mistakes include the shadow of the boom-mic, fluffed lines, camera reflections and the awkward gaze of street-level spectators glaring into the camera lens whenever Rivette and his crew hit the streets. In any other film, these flaws would be dismissed as simply incompetent film-making; however, in Rivette's work, such deliberate mistakes become part of the artistic aesthetic that here conspires to challenge the audience on both an emotional and purely visceral level. By including such examples, Rivette is bringing to light the artificiality of the film; offering us a fractured narrative about creative expression in a behind the scenes sense that continually reminds us of the manufactured nature of the thing itself. Shot on 16mm, Out 1 comes to typify the reportage style of cinema in which the emphasis is placed on clinical examination, as evident from the director's continual use of incredibly long takes and often complete lack of close-up shots to further distance us from the action and the characters on screen. This sense of deconstruction and deliberate alienation from the traditional cinematic codes and conventions that many of us might expect can also be seen in Rivette's experiments within the narrative, and how we, as an audience, are invited to find our own themes and interpretations as the characters in the drama group are likewise expected to find a motivation of their own.
With these factors in mind, Out 1 is quite simply cinema at its most challenging and revolutionary. It is as far removed from the recognisable conventions of traditional film-making as one could possibly get, and seems to be an extension of the more superficial experiments of Andy Warhol combined with the unapologetically lofty output of Marguerite Duras; and all combined alongside certain stylistic elements found in the aforementioned La Chinoise and the Japanese New Wave masterpiece, Funeral Parade of Roses (1969). However, if you're already familiar with Rivette's work, from the preceding L' Amour fou (1968) to the more widely regarded Celine and Julie..., then you should be accustomed to the more alarming, deconstructive elements and the film's disarming length. As one critic put it, "the best way to experience Out 1 is to immerse yourself in it completely". Obviously, few of us will ever have the time or the energy (not least, the opportunity) required to get through the whole thing in a single sitting, however, given the fact that the film is broken down into a number of disconnected chapters, we can easily approach it in bite-sized chunks; losing out on the overall feel and flow perhaps, but still receiving the required information as it comes.
For many it will no doubt feel like an obvious period piece - something that is there to be endured as opposed to enjoyed - though nevertheless, there is a real flow and a sense of energy to the film that might seem surprising given the slow-pace and epic length. It is a film that resonates with ideas about life, love, freedom and expression, all captured in a manner that is anarchic, spirited and filled with passion and vitality. It does take a great deal of work; and as a result, this review is really only scratching the surface of its themes and ideas that are there to be poured over by the viewer at their own leisure whilst immersing themselves in the continual games and absurdities of the plot. Although as a film it is always going to have an incredibly limited audience, as an experience Out 1 is second to none and really deserves to be seen in its full, 773 minute restoration, rather than the shorter, 4 hour cut, Out 1: Spectre (1974), which should probably be seen as a standalone work in its own right.
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