Around a Small Mountain is the latest film by French director Jacques Rivette, one of the original members of the French New Wave. Rivette is now 82, but judging from this film he still has a playful spirit.
The film takes place in summertime in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France (the French title of the film -- 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup -- is a nod to the Japanese print-maker Hokusai's famous print series "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji," with Pic Saint Loup, a small mountain in the area, standing in for Mount Fuji).
Jane Birkin (yes: of Birkin bag fame) plays Kate, a woman who has recently rejoined a small travelling circus, one of the many which wander through the southern villages during summertime, setting up a single tent in the town square and playing to small audiences.
Fifteen years ago Kate left the circus following some kind of tragedy and is still trying to deal with the trauma. The film opens with Kate stranded in the middle of nowhere beside her broken-down car. A passerby, Vittorio, driving his sports car from Milan to Barcelona, helps her out and ends up following the circus from village to village, gently wooing Kate and gradually becoming part of the small, itinerant band.
Around a Small Mountain is a gentle film, similar in spirit to Jacque Rivette's 1974 film Céline and Julie Go Boating, while lacking that film's magic. In a sense Kate could be Céline herself later in life, and a bit worn down by circumstance. In Around a Small Mountain Rivette (echoing Céline's night club magic act from Céline and Julie) stages several of the circus's acts: two clowns do a number involving a gun and dinner plates; a juggler performs with flaming torches, tumblers tumble.
I can picture Rivette with his production crew and his troupe of actors -- together forming a circus of a slightly different sort -- taking an entire summer to improvise this story and film it. It sounds like a great way to spend a summer and the result is a pleasant evening's entertainment -- but not more than that.