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The restoration and reappearance of Jacques Rivette’s magnum opus brings this long impossible-to-see, 13-hour masterpiece to the big screen for its world theatrical premiere run.
Over eight episodes, a cast of French New Wave icons improvise a spellbinding tale involving two theater troupes rehearsing Aeschylus, a female con artist (Berto) who seduces her victims, and a deaf-mute (until he speaks) busker (Léaud) on a quest to uncover a mysterious secret society. As the characters’ paths crisscross and the film’s puzzle-box structure grows ever more elaborate, a portrait of post-May 1968 Paris and its dashed dreams emerges. The result is a cinematic experience unlike any other, in which, as Rivette himself put it: “the fiction swallows everything up and then self-destructs.” New restoration courtesy of Carlotta Films US.
Rivette instantly establishes his playful, no-rules reality as two theater troupes rehearse avant-garde versions of Aeschylus plays climaxing in an epic, hypnotic warm-up exercise that unfolds like a primal, clothed orgy. We are introduced to a deadpan, deaf-mute busker (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and Frédérique (Juliet Berto), a wayward young con artist.
The outlines of a conspiracy begin to emerge as the mute busker begins receiving cryptic letters with references to Balzac and Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. Meanwhile, theater rehearsals take an unsettling turn.