Ethan’s review published on Letterboxd:
“You're all dreamers, incapable of doing anything.”
A colossal and influential work of experimental arthouse cinema, Jacques Rivette’s 1971 serial, Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, is an ode to an era of dashed revolutionaries and lost ideals and the closing curtain to the French New Wave. Known for its formidable 13-hour runtime, the film follows two theatre troupes rehearsing plays by Aeschylus, two young vagabonds roaming the streets of Paris hustling for money, and the emergence of a secret society known as “The Thirteen”.
The conception of Out 1 was heavily influenced by the historical events of May ’68. It was a period marked by political and civil unrest that began with a series of student protests against capitalism, consumerism, and other traditional institutions. The protests were met with violence by the police which only inflamed the situation further. In many ways, the film is a response to the question of “what now?” following the events of May ’68. The characters are the remnants of the counterculture movement, embodying an entire generation of individuals searching to be a part of something bigger and more meaningful than themselves. Some of them were once political radicals who have stalled their idealism and are trying to channel their frustration into the creative process, hoping that something would inspire and consume them as it once did.
Out 1 is a dauntless undertaking in developing a new form of cinema through the deconstructing of its central tenets and stripping away of its most essential and presupposed qualities. The film operates in a manner more comparable to freeform jazz, rejecting the notion that scenes have to serve some vital function or purpose beyond spending time and getting to know the characters. It wanders and stalls and the slow accretion of time stifles any significant amount of catharsis or coherence. One gathers the sense that the film is growing and expanding as it gradually works towards an indistinct conclusion. The uncertainty surrounding the film's general direction and meaning mirror the idle and restless mentality of the film's characters, and more broadly, the counterculture movement.
The dichotomy between realism and surrealism is a central theme of Out 1 as it is with Rivette’s entire body of work. At times, the film feels like a documentary about the making of itself given the amount of improvisational acting and the rehearsal sequences that play out in real-time. The meta quality of film actors portraying theatre actors rehearsing a play makes the film feel more real than reality even though there is nothing overtly fantastical beyond the mystical symbolism. Film as a medium is synonymous with escapism, Out 1 takes it a step further playing with the idea of cinema as hypnosis: we watch people live their lives in real-time, and repeat phrases over and over until they are trapped in a trance and come to embody its ideals. The nature of performance is inherent in everyone, and perhaps there are no discernible qualities between appearances and truth. In one scene, one of the members of the theatre troupe says she is going to see a film, and Thomas, the lead actor of the troupe responds: “Don’t you want to watch us rehearse?” These moments of ironic self-reference throughout the film are more than just playful winks to the viewer but imply something much more sinister. It denies that there is anything beyond mere appearance; there is no real-world to be represented. It is therefore impossible, to tell the truth about the world. The principal characters of the film, Colin, a con artist, Frédérique, a hustler, and Thomas, an actor, are all faithless adherents to this post-modern view. Their world is a stage. They deceive to escape their internal malaise, hoping to lull themselves into a trance and become someone they aren't. They secretly yearn to be a part of something bigger and more meaningful, which is ultimately the impetus that leads them towards “The Thirteen”.
In Out 1, Rivette questions the possibility of having faith in truth and connection in a post-modern world. The film is not only a singular achievement in filmmaking but an extended anthropological endeavour looking at the faded hopes and dreams of an entire generation. It carries within itself the grandeur, spontaneity, and curiosity of life, weaving together elements of comedy and paranoia to build towards an indelible experience that is satisfyingly unsatisfying in all the right ways.