Va savoir (aka Who Knows?) (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

When I saw the name of the director on this film, I thought it must be the son of the one I am familiar with. I thought that the original Jacques Rivette must have been dead for years. He was one of the leaders of the Nouvelle Vague movement in French cinema immediately after the World War, and he made his first film in the forties, his first feature-length film in the 50's.  I am an old fart, and he was making movies before I was born. Godard, Chabrol and Truffaut considered him a role model. He, like many of his contemporaries or near-contemporaries was a "Cahiers du Cinema" scholar turned director.

Unlike his contemporaries, he never really found fame or commercial success. He trod on the sidelines, never becoming part of the system, always maintaining kind of an "underground" consciousness in his filmmaking. He made such works as a 13 hour film, and a four hour film about paint drying, and he adapted opaque literary works by Diderot, Balzac and other philosophical or highbrow authors.


Jeanne Balibar takes a shower. We see her breasts clearly when she's behind the glass, and then again when she steps out.

He's probably most famous to debauchees like us for his movie La Belle Noiseuse, which could just as easily be called "Four Hours of Emmanuelle Beart Posing Naked in Very Good Light While Paint Dries", which is not my kind of movie, but I like looking at the images from it.

He isn't dead. He is still at it, and his films are actually becoming more accessible.

Va savoir (aka Who Knows?) is his latest film, made 52 years after his first one.  It follows perfectly the Scoopy Phenomenon, an inexplicable mystery of French Films, which is that although only about 1 person out of a million in the real world is a philosophy teacher, about one character out of ten in French films is a philosophy teacher. This is not really a joke, but merely a slight exaggeration. The Scoopy Phenomenon apparently occurs because the French think, and therefore are.

In this case, they lead us to believe that it is a movie about actors, and that they are performing a play in Paris. As in a Pirandello play, it turns out that the whole thing is one level deeper than we think. It is actually a movie about actors playing the part of actors who are in Paris performing a play. Therefore, the play within a play turns out to be a play within a play within a play. And, to confuse matters even more, the play within a play within a play is a Pirandello play, so the whole construct is like one of those infinite mirror sequences, or one of those Russian nested dolls.

I don't know about y'all, but I hate that kind of contrived shit, so I was predisposed to hate this. I also don't like the types of plays where people obsess about concocted literary and romantic problems rather than genuine substantial matters. Hey, if you lost your boyfriend, find a new one, toots, and stop moping around like Brian Dennehy arriving too late for the early bird buffet. So the film had two strikes right there. It is also two and a half hours long, and in French, so I simply can't recommend it to any one unless it is specifically the type of film you like - talky, philosophical, neurotic, unresolved.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • no meaningful features

On the other hand, if you like witty, precise dialogue, and enjoy the literary tradition of good talk about relationships, the illusion of the theater, the meaning of life, and the nature of reality, this is a well constructed, well photographed film about intelligent people. Even though it had so many elements predisposing me to dislike it, I did like a lot of it in spite of myself.  

It is a good film, well received by almost every critic, but with a very limited target audience.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: a bit less than three stars. Ebert 3/4, BBC 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 7.4/10


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. It is a solid film in the French tradition of talky, philosophical, romantic farces. I assume that is not what most of you are looking for.

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