Around a Small Mountain
How much you enjoy Around a Small Mountain may depend on your familiarity with Rivette’s other films—it’s a willfully small, fragile movie that converses with the director’s earlier work but barely stands on its own. Like his masterpieces L’Amour Fou and Out 1, the film concerns the relationship between performance and life, in this case exploring the subject through the eyes of an Italian interloper (Castellitto) who stumbles on a traveling, forgotten circus troupe. One of its members (Birkin) suffered a trauma years ago, and he endeavors to help her out.
Rivette’s shortest feature by nearly 40 minutes, the film feels purposeful, even touching, in its succinctness; it’s also bracing to see the filmmaker back in his signature mode, especially after 2007’s Duchess of Langeais, an accomplished period drama that nevertheless felt like another director’s work. But Mountain also offers little sense of the things that made Rivette great in the first place: It lacks danger, playfulness and the magic of watching its maker carve a narrative out of chunks of apparent aimlessness. (Out 1, his greatest film, unfolds over more than 12 hours.) Rivette is reportedly ailing, and the movie seems self-consciously designed as a farewell—nods to Shakespeare suggest it as a Tempest-like act of exorcism. For the uninitiated, it might be better to start with the possession.