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.
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.
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.