This 13-hour experimental film by acclaimed French new wave film­maker Jacques Rivette used to be a mystery for cineastes. The 1971 film spent decades languishing in obscurity.

Out 1 was recently restored, and all eight parts are now, oddly, also available on the United States catalogue of Netflix. While not exactly a rediscovered masterpiece – it’s too obscure, and too idiosyncratic, to be considered an undisputed classic – this is still a fasci­na­ting piece of cinema that’s an easier watch than its great length and experi­mental nature suggest.

Out 1 is not a gay reference but Rivette’s grumpy riposte to the youth culture of the 1960s, which decreed what was fashionable by denoting it “in”. Unlike such experi­men­tal works as One Plus One (1968), by Rivette contemporary Jean-Luc Godard, there is an over­arching plot, although it’s purposely labyrinthine and convoluted.

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The multilayered story, which is in eight parts, hinges around two avant-garde theatre groups, both in rehearsals to stage different plays by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. There’s also a young man, Colin (new wave star Jean-Pierre Léaud), who poses as a deaf mute to extort money from café-goers, and female petty criminal Frederique (Juliet Berto, who had appeared in films by Godard), with a penchant for blackmail.

After about three hours of scene setting, everything coalesces around the discovery of some letters, stolen by Frederique, that point to the existence of a sect or cult called “The Thirteen”.

Out 1 was inspired by the literary work La Comedie Humaine (1830-48), by Honoré de Balzac, which was a panorama of stories set in Napoleonic France. The film’s raison d’etre is to explore stories within stories within stories. Rivette, who often made long films, such as the four-hour La Belle Noiseuse (1991), didn’t choose to make a 13-hour movie as an indulgence. His idea was to create a grand canvas that would allow different independent narratives to unspool around a central core.

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Experimental produc­tions usually explore film style and while that is in evidence here, a narrative experiment is at the heart of Out 1. The actors improvised their lines around a basic idea – and sometimes seemed to be struggling to keep up – and Rivette left in mistakes, such as some bystanders following the shoot. Yet the result is still more sophisticated than raw.

The movie is also a docu­ment of the late-60s zeitgeist, especially the 30-minute sequence of a theatre troupe “rehearsing” by rolling around the floor with a mannequin, trying to bite each other in the name of character research.

Out 1 will be screened on April 29 and 30 at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, Wan Chai, as part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival.