Few films manage to make unconfessed infidelity, sex in exchange for diamonds and incestuous relationships the topics of a light-hearted romantic comedy. What is Hollywood thinking? The gleefully refreshing Va Savoir does just that. An intellectualized amorality governs its characters, a non-Christian ideology not often found in American films, but sincerely played out in this vision of love as a many-partnered thing.
When an Italian troupe of actors makes a tour stop in Paris, actress Camille (Jeanne Balibar) faces a past romance that was left unsettled while still maintaining her present life and her partnership with actor and troupe leader Ugo (Sergio Castellito). As she contacts Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffe), the former lover whom she has not spoken to in three years, Ugo is searching private libraries for an 18th century Italian play and striking up a friendship with the young twenty something Do (Helene de Fougerolles), a bookworm with more of a tan than could possible be gotten spending each day between the stacks.
Do develops an interest in the older Ugo, much like the highly sexualized relationship she shares with her half-brother, Arthur (Bruno Todeschini), who just happens to be carrying on with Pierre’s new wife, Sonia (Marianne Basler).
Provided one takes this string of coincidences with a grain of salt, the rest of the picture moves with a pleasant, Wildean bounce. The most enjoyable scene, a dinner with the couples of Pierre and Sonia and Camille and Ugo, has all the best attributes of a classic comedy of manners. The cinematography is simple, and the dialogue is so clearly the focus that director Jacques Rivette manages to get by without any musical accompaniment whatsoever, relying upon a script well equipped to handle the pressure.
Most pleasing is the ability to sympathize with every character – except perhaps Arthur, the irascible gambler and thief – without having to choose a protagonist. Ostensibly Camille, the story’s catalyst, appears to be its lead. But deceit lies everywhere, and by the end nobody remains above criticism. This profusion of immorality among the characters debases our sympathies for any one actor, yet solidifies our appreciation of each as a very real being.
Va Savoir‘s amicable ending rings with the joy of a classic romantic comedy, giving off a false sense that all the loose ends have been tied up, when in fact the characters have made but a tenuous acceptance of the paradoxes inherent in their lives and have chosen to allow the loose ends to lie as they may.
To learn to accept the flaws in one’s life, as the characters of Va Savoir do, seems a far more enviable end than the sugary fantasies conclusions found in the finales of most so-called romances.
Va Savoir is in theatres Friday.