In a scene that occurs midway through Jacques Rivette’s 36 Views of Saint-Loup Peak, former circus performer turned textile designer, Kate (Jane Birkin) returns to Paris with a batch of fabrics that she has dyed during a visit to her family’s provincial circus and tries to match the color of the swatches to a Pantone chart, discovering that the hues had turned out differently from how they appeared when she had inspected them under the circus lights. The idea of the circus as facilitating a different way of seeing is a theme that surfaces throughout the film, creating a broader analogy for the stage as an intersection between real life and performance. It is this sense of novelty that would also draw globe-trotting Italian businessman, Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto) into the world of a dying circus, prompted by Kate’s invitation to see the show as a token of gratitude for fixing her stranded car. Returning after years of forced separation in order to mourn the loss of her father (who, in turn, was responsible for her exile) with her sister, Barbara (Vimala Pons) and niece, Clémence (Julie-Marie Parmentier), Kate is reluctant to step into the ring again, having once been involved in a tragic accident that would claim the life of her lover. But as Vittorio becomes as increasingly seduced by the elusive Kate as he is by resident clown, Marlo’s (Jacques Bonnaffé) infinite variations on the opening skit for each show, he begins to immerse himself further into the everyday chaos of the circus in the belief that the ring represents the key to finding closure. Composed of self-contained episodes that underscore the construction and artifice implicit in a performance, 36 Views of Saint-Loup Peak is a whimsical and bittersweet allegory for the stage as a place of adventure, mystery, and wonder. Alternating sequences between the performers and their performances that allude to their interchangeability, Rivette creates a poignant metaphor for life as human comedy and ever-changing spectacle.
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