Va Savoir is a labored offering from Nouvelle Vague auteur Jacques Rivette. Broken up with play-within-a-film segments from Luigi Pirandelo’s As You Desire Me, the film finds Rivette in familiar terrain. His exploration of the conflict between fiction and reality isn’t so much tiresome as it is tiresomely ancient, and similar to some of his more volatile works (The Nun and Céline and Julie Go Boating), the film is leisurely paced but frustrating. Rivette is headily conscious of the way characters move through doorways and interior spaces, but Va Savoir seems burdened by the director’s philosophical interest in the duality between illusion and actuality, which serves little importance to the film’s actual narrative center, a more or less straightforward tale of Rohmerian discord.
The older he gets, the more Western Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffe) becomes. Or so says his emotional wife, Sonia (Mariane Basler), a Feng Shui enthusiast (she favors geometrical, spatial dynamics), when discussing how at odds she is with her husband’s bookish persona. Pierre was once involved with Camille (Jeanne Balibar), who has returned to Paris to perform in the Pirandello play with her co-star/director/husband Ugo (Sergio Castellitto), and finds himself gravitating toward his old flame while Ugo falls in love with a young, literature-loving beauty named Do (Hélène de Fougerolles), whose brother, Arthur (Bruno Todeschini), is having an affair with Sonia. The film’s latter half is a relatively taught affair, with the pacing smooth and circular but lugubrious; little happens during the film’s first half, which revolves around the banality of Camille and Ugo’s marriage and Ugo’s search for a long-lost play by 18th-century writer Goldoni.
Sonia, having discovered that Arthur is only after her expensive ring, convinces Camille to seduce Arthur in order to retrieve the ring. Ultimately, Va Savoir is less concerned with exploring the emotional and physical complexities of impossible love than it is with using the narrative format as an excuse to probe the intricacies of the real and unreal. The tone of the film’s first half recalls the airiness of Rohmer’s Boyfriends and Girlfriends only to turn into a muddled, scarcely-deep commentary on the interplay between life and fiction. Inundated with strangely piercing moments (see Balibar’s unpanicked rooftop escape from Pierre’s apartment) and one humorous scenario that pits a drunken Pierre against an equally drunk Ugo, Va Savoir lacks the kind of Godardian panache that would make its theoretical arguments stick to the bones.