Ryan Swen’s review published on Letterboxd:
This film is an experience unlike any other. I watched this in a marathon screening starting at 10:30 AM and ending at 12:30 AM, with 5-10 minute breaks between chapters and a 25 minute break at the halfway mark, and I must admit, the length did get to me after awhile, as I fell asleep for short periods of time in Chapters 2-4, but it was not out of boredom.
This is a film that, despite its mammoth runtime, is never truly boring. Instead, it is exhausting in the embarrassment of riches that is given to the viewer by Rivette and company; though there are more than a few moments that don't quite land, there are always at least 2 or 3 things of interest that are on display during every second, every frame.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect to me was the acting, which is absolutely superb across the board. Such a long film requires a certain irresistible magnetism to the performances, and everyone provides it in spade. The theater troupe actors, in particular, are incredibly dedicated to their roles, imbuing the frequently outlandish exercises with nuance, character, tenderness, intensity, and sheer animalism.
The script is another absolutely essential part to the success of this film. The improvised dialogue feels incredibly naturalistic and makes the frequently long conversations feel that much easier to digest. The structuring of the film also lends a nice flow that feels both television-like (in the sense that it juggles a similar plotlines and follows an episodic format) while remaining a film (the way that the film lingers on many moments is something that is much more likely to happen in an arthouse film than in a TV show).
Rivette's direction here is absolutely solid, using the verite aesthetic to its fullest possible limit, though the use of certain disruptive techniques only adds to this atmosphere. The dynamic camerawork both envelops and distances the viewer from the events and rehearsals, and the framing prioritizes the group over any individual, continually focusing on events occurring that may not be considered the most important occurrence in the given scene in a way that builds the environment of the film. The editing is also amazing, especially in the way where the filmmakers cut to a completely unrelated event in the middle of a scene to suggest possible connections.
The film can probably be described best by the line (spoken by Leaud's character) as an "inextricable mental confusion". The first few episodes, which more than anything are about the rehearsals and introductions of characters, are disconcerting in the way it thrusts the viewer headfirst into the experimental tendencies of the characters. Once there, the film rarely lets up in its building of a hopelessly tangled web of mystery and secrets, with some inexplicably bizarre moments that just add to the enchantment of the film. The runtime and marathon aspect helps immensely with this, as the viewer may start to marvel at just how far the film has come, as if the opening episodes were just a dream or hallucination.
This film is a portrait of Paris and its inhabitants in all their humanity, doubts, faults, and hopes. It is a celebration of art and a lament for how impossible it can sometimes be, it is a depiction of the joys of collaboration and camaraderie and the sadness of solitude, and it is a document of the complexity of relationships, intimacy, and love. As funny as it is disquieting, this is ultimately an immensely pleasurable and endlessly watchable film.