Around a Small Mountain (2009): Jacques Rivette’s Final Film, Starring Jane Birkin nd Sergio Castellitto

Around a Small Mountain (French title is 36 vues du pic Saint-Loup) is the final film of French New Wave leader Jacques Rivette, who died in 2016.

World premiering at the Venice Film Fest and later playing in other venues, the film, one of the shortest in Rivette’s canon (only 84 minutes) is less about narrative than characters, performances, and mood.

Instead of the more characteristic sprawling sagas that define Rivette’s career, we get a more intimate two-handlers, played by terrific actors, French Jane Birkin and Italian Sergio Castellitto).

In the opening scene, Kate (Birkin) is driving along a winding mountain road when her car stalls. A man named Vittorio (Castellitto) happens along and fixes her car without ever speaking to her. After he drives away, intrigued by the woman, he decides to turn back.

Vittorio discovers that Kate has returned to join her family’s traveling circus after leaving under mysterious conditions 15 years ago.

Vittorio stays for one show, and then decides to stay in town, booking the room above a local cafe. He begins to attend all the shows, fascinated by the circus and the lives of its performers—all the while trying to discover the secret that led to Kate’s sudden departure. (Kate’s lover was killed during a performance.) 

When the circus caravan leaves town, Vittorio follows. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, both he and Kate seem to be running away with the circus. Gradually he learns about the circus’ buried past, ongoing present, and precarious existence in the future.