"There Are Things Happening In This House..."

by Arthur B

Arrow Academy delivers a masterful compilation of work by Jacques Rivette, including his masterpiece Out 1.
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Jacques Rivette was a director and film critic in the French New Wave movement whose style I would compare to a sort of cinematic equivalent of the magical realism strand in literature. You have the same combination of a real world, usually contemporary setting with hints of more unusual things going on and occasional overt lapses into supernaturalism, and a sort of enigmatic, reticent style of direction which, much like the narrative style of the magical realism authors, means that the story tends to keep its secrets close to its chest.

One factor which has made Rivette’s material hard for newcomers to appreciate is the extreme length of some of it. Whilst Rivette would make films of a more usual running time, his most famous work, Out 1, is a truly daunting prospect. There’s an abridged version entitled Out 1: Spectre, which goes at over 4 hours, but the full experience - Out 1: Noli Me Tangere is an epic of almost 13 hours long. That’s naturally a barrier both to home media release and for cinematic revivals.

However, Arrow Academy have blessed us with an expansive boxed set, encompassing both versions of Out 1 and several subsequent projects in a similar magical realist vein, allowing for perhaps the easiest entry point to this difficult body of work ever offered to the public. Though they were filmed after, I will tackle the subsequent movies first, before moving on to a detailed analysis of Out 1.

Duelle (Une Quarantine)


This was intended second part of the four-part Scènes de la Vie Parallèle sequence, the series also sometimes referred to as Les Filles du Feu. The idea was that all of the four films in the series would have a different genre, the central characters in each would be a pair of closely connected women, and there’d be various little motifs weaving between the different instalments. However, the planned fourth movie - a musical comedy - was never made, whilst the intended first film, a supernatural love story, was greatly delayed; eventually, it was produced in the early noughties as Histoire de Marie et Julien, but so much water had gone under the bridge it ended up a very different beast from the one originally planned so it is only unofficially part of the sequence.

Duelle begins as though it is an artsy take on a Parisian noir mystery before it enters decidedly stranger waters. The mysterious Leni (Juliet Berto) comes to a hotel looking for a certain Max Christie, her questions intriguing the night porter Lucie (Hermine Karagheuz) and drawing her into an investigation of very strange circles; meanwhile, another mysterious figure, Viva (Bulle Ogier) is lurking in a certain casino and nudging a certain man of the world, Pierrot (Jean Babilée), into helping her search for the Fairy Godmother, a legendary gemstone rumoured to be cursed.

But there’s something not quite right about these people. Certain characters in this tableau show signs of being a bit more than human. Elsa (Nicole Garcia), who offers ticketed dances at a hostess club tells Leni an anecdote about how Max Christie never seemed to be able to get drunk, no matter how much he imbibed, and seemed able to break mirrors with a gesture; as Viva tries to draw Pierrot into her game, we notice that she doesn’t seem to get drunk either, despite knocking back the champagne. Then there’s Viva’s habit of referring to Pierrot and others as “mortals” behind closed doors. As the movie progresses, it transpires that Leni and Viva are deities and spirits, Leni ruling the Moon and Viva ruling the Sun, and the Fairy Godmother is the prize which will let one of them stay in Paris forever...

What we have, then, is an interesting experiment in low-key modern-day fantasy. For much of the movie the point of the exercise seems to be in presenting an air of fantasy and the supernatural despite more or less nothing explicitly supernatural happening onscreen. It’s not quite like magical realism, since in magical realism flashy stuff can happen, but the presentation of the supernatural is rather casual about it and treats it like an ordinary and natural part of the world, whereas here things which are apparently mundane are invested with an air of the extraordinary and supernatural. It isn’t as high-grade full-bore weird as, say, the iconic red room sequence from Twin Peaks; most of the conversations can be followed perfectly well, it’s just that the particular import of them is so strange, and occasionally very, very strange hints of a magical layer to the story are shown.

There’s a particular moment where Elsa puts on a choker bearing what I think is the Fairy Godmother and looks in a mirror and smiles in a sinister fashion and this shadow overcomes everything before disappearing as a strange tone plays gently in the background, which feels extremely David Lynchian. Later in the film, where more overt outbursts of strangeness takes place (from about the 70 minute mark onwards), it feels very Lynchian - in some ways, like a way more cohesive and successful take on Inland Empire, with its occasional abrupt changes of scene, scenario, and aesthetic.

This is a much conventional production than Out 1, both in terms of the running time and in terms of the approach to the production - it’s made on cinematic-grade film rather than 16mm, and seems to involve much less improvisation. Everyone looks fantastic - iconic, even. (The sequence where Leni dons drag to buy a dance with Elsa at the hostess club is a particular highlight.) In an interesting touch, the soundtrack is mostly diegetic, provided by a mysterious pianist (Jean Weiner) who seems to always be in the background playing little improvisations. As we’ll see in the next movie, diegetic sources for the background music soundtracks were going to be one of the connecting threads between the movies in the series...

Noroît (Une Vengeance)


This is part 3 of Scènes de la Vie Parallèle, and is a loose adaptation of Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy. A woman who we come to know under her pseudonym of Morag (Geraldine Chaplin) mourns her dead brother Shane and swears vengeance on his killers; she undertakes this plot with the assistance of her sister Erika (Kika Markham), who she sends ahead to gain the confidence of the parties involved and pave the way for her own infiltration. The killers are a band of pirates under the command of Giulia (Bernadette Lafont), who live in a medieval fortress on a chilly island somewhere in the Atlantic. As Morag and Erika advance their plans, they must navigate the pirates’ various entangled relationships, schemes, and ambitions.

The movie is given a fantastical edge by the suggestions of Giulia possessing magical powers, by Morag apparently having a vision of Shane at one point, and by the intriguing aesthetic of costuming and technology alike. People wear clothing ranging from 1970s styles - Giulia is magnificently attired in this respect - to bits and pieces more appropriate to the play’s 17th Century origins. Horses are used, motor vehicles are not in evidence on land (though motor boats are in use at sea, and indeed there’s a quite excitingly staged pirate attack using them), the firearms used are the sort you’d find in Westerns, and at one point the characters seem to be trying to get an antique telegraph machine to work. Between this and the word of violence and war on the mainland and the fact that these pirates seem to be operating in the North Atlantic with only a few machine gun nests to fend off the authorities, it almost has a post-apocalyptic air to it.

Another intriguing thing about the production is the role of women in it. Men and women alike go armed, and Giulia gives her chosen heiress Elisa (Élisabeth Lafont) a pistol and seems intent on teaching her to be just as ruthless as she. In fact, the majority of the important characters we meet are women, with the highest accomplishment available to men being either Giulia’s bodyguard or Giulia’s bit of nocturnal entertainment. Giulia in fact seems to be bisexual, with one of the characters - Elisa’s mother Regina (Babette Lamy) - being kept as her trophy wife of sorts, and there being something apparently going on between her and Erika in the late stages of the film.

Though Rivette sees his way free to change about the setting and characters accordingly, he does go back to Middleton’s original here and there; at occasional significant moments of the script, usually when Morag is saying something important about her quest, we get snippets of the original script, delivered in English. This is both a nice way of flagging that the original words are being used and a chance to indicate that what is being said is a little out of the ordinary, a transcendent moment in the midst of the grim process of revenge. In one part the two chant the same set of lines from the play whilst walking in circles around a dead body bound up in a sack, like English is the language of some sort of horrible necromancy.

This otherworldliness is emphasised by the excellent soundtrack, which consists of a range of avant-garde chamber trio drones and plucking. As I alluded to above, the movie continues the motif from Duelle of musicians being present in the scene when there’s music playing much of the time - though this isn’t unwaveringly followed - which suggests to me that the presence of a diegetic set of musicians in the corner of the action was meant to be a connecting motif of the series as a whole.

Where the adaptation shines is in depicting the rich tapestry of connections, annoyances, friendships and rivalries among the pirates - you definitely come away with the impression that Morag and Erika have come into the middle of a real community with its own life and history above and beyond the action of the story. This is realised through a combination of the script itself and excellent performances from the cast. Lafont is a real treat, executing her role with a combination of 1970s stylishness and timeless viciousness which makes her take on Giulia a sort of more grounded magical realism take on Jacqueline Pearce’s performance as Servalan on Blake’s 7. (In fact, her costume for the final bizarre masked ball sequence is worthy of Servalan herself.)

Merry-Go-Round


After knocking out Duelle and Noroît in rapid succession in the mid-1970s, Rivette had a bit of a breakdown, but managed to recover by 1981 in order to produce this magnificent comeback. Ben (Joe Dallesandro) and Léo (Maria Schneider) are strangers summoned to Roissy Airport by telegrams - Ben arriving from NYC, Léo coming from Rome. The connection between the two is Élisabeth (Danièle Gégauff) - Léo is her sister, Ben a friend and occasional lover.

Élisabeth is busy selling off the estate of David, her and Léo’s father - but there’s a catch. Élisabeth claims that David isn’t really dead, but that there’s a fat stack of cash involved in his faking his death and the co-operation of Ben and Léo will be needed to ensure an optimal split. As they’re meeting at the estate to handle the situation, Ben and Léo are shocked when two men snatch Élisabeth and drag her into an ambulance, which speeds away - but Élisabeth had been behaving oddly, deflecting Ben and Léo’s questions about the ambulance when they spotted it on arriving at the estate, and our duo seem more interested in checking out the house than chasing after Élisabeth.

From this ambiguous beginning, Ben and Léo end up caught up in a strange mystery, both of them intent on finding the same answers but neither wholly trusting the other, with both of them going through paranoid phases where it seems to them the other has evil intentions in mind. Are they caught chasing up after a delusional fantasy of Élisabeth’s which preys upon their own peace of mind, or was Élisabeth telling the truth? And if that’s the case, do one or the other or both of our heroes have a secret agenda?

Rivette experiments here with interesting ways of showing character’s inner thoughts through unannounced fantasy sequences. For instance, at points we see vignettes Ben running in terror from Léo in the midst of some woods, or Léo similarly fleeing on a beach, which usually flash up either when the characters are dreaming or when they are in a moment of panic or concern. And then things get really odd when Ben starts seeing a knight chasing him in his forest - or when a shot of Léo during this sequence suggests that she is beginning to share Ben’s dreams.

The idea of a diegetic soundtrack from the previous two movies makes a reappearance here, with the movie occasionally cutting to musicians playing the soundtrack in a darkened room to punctuate the acts. At points, the music plays loudly in such a way as to obscure dialogue, so the audience is straining to penetrate the mystery just as much as the characters are.

Merry-Go-Round is perhaps the most tightly structured of the magical realism mysteries in this set, with David providing a suitably sinister offscreen presence; one character talks about how it’d suit his style to set up a mystery like this only to torment and punish those who unravel it. But as with the other mysteries here, it pales in comparison to Rivette’s magnum opus...

Out 1: No Me Tangere


For the purpose of this review I’m just going to cover the full-fat version of Out 1, rather than the truncated edition (which apparently comes across rather differently due to the edits). Whilst a running time approaching 13 hours is a horrifying prospect for a single movie, there’s a secret to this: it’s actually an episodic piece, Rivette dividing the great heaving mass into eight episodes of about the length of a more conventional movie each.

Thanks to the post-Twin Peaks acceptance of the idea of a TV series that tells a single, long story over the course of its episodes, I suspect that were Rivette producing Out 1 today he’d have probably been able to get it greenlit as a TV series rather than a movie, though the distinction might be largely semantic. (The new season of Twin Peaks, in fact, has been described as being filmed like it were one continuous movie.)

At the time it was made, though, television certainly wasn’t offering anything like this, and it’s not the sort of thing where you’d want to have a full week of downtime between episodes - it flows best, I find, if you take in an episode every day or every couple of days, and if you feel like binging multiple episodes at a time, go for it. It’s a complex story riddled with mysteries, and it’s certainly the sort of thing which would seem to reward multiple viewings.

To aid those who aren’t sitting through the whole 13 hour piece at once (which would more or less everyone), each episode after the first begins with a sequence of black and white photos depicting significant scenes of the preceding episode, and leads in with about a minute of black-and-white footage constituting the last minute or so of the previous episode, before shifting back to full colour for the new material, which really helps ease you back into the action after you’ve taken a break.

As far as structuring this review goes, it actually makes sense for me to take it episode by episode, because there’s such a great mass of material here that I think there’s some benefit to be had from me raising the various ideas and responses I have to it more or less as and when I have them, not least because the approach of the piece evolves as the episodes progress. The remainder of this article is not going to be so much a review of the film as an analytical essay picking over the plot and my impressions of it, because I think you’d have to study Out 1 for a long time to be able to quickly and confidently summarise it in the way I’d want to do for a review.

Nonetheless, for those of you who wish to avoid spoilers, I will provide some spoiler space below and give you my overall impression of the sequence: it’s magnificent. By providing us with such a massive, massive amount of footage observing these characters, Rivette allows us to become intimately acquainted with them, and gives himself the space to tell a story which is truly complex. Although at first events seem random and disconnected, and indeed extensive parts of the movie are improvised, it doesn’t feel like there is any true filler here; every scene has its purpose, a piece in a grand tapestry, and by the time you reach the end scenes much earlier on end up dripping with new significance. It is Rivette’s crowning achievement and justifies its place as the core of this boxed set.

With that, I give you your spoiler space, and then my synopsis and analysis of the movie - a personal take which I am sure other viewers will take issue with here and there, because this movie is so suggestive that you cannot help but try and construct your own theories about it.

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Episode 1

As the first episode, this is the establishing one - the bit where we are introduced to the main players in the story - and as such it is dedicated to long, continuous, documentary-like scenes in which we observe them at their business as it stands before the plot itself properly kicks off. The core narrative of Out 1 revolves around two very different theatre groups, who we meet as they are each rehearsing performances of a different Aeschylus play in separate, threadbare rehearsal spaces (though I think the two rehearsal spaces are meant to be in the same vast house).

The first group we meet are working on Seven Against Thebes, and for the sake of convenience I will be referring to them as the Thebans. The first episode commences as we watch them go through a ritualistic dance exercise to loosen up and prepare, and then they rehearse the play in what is mostly a very traditional way - yes, they’re laughing and joking with each other, but they’re reading from the book and trying to work out how to do entrances and blocking in a scene and they are doing all this under the direction of a single director whose lead they follow.

The other group are, in principle, doing Prometheus Bound - as such, I’m going to be calling them the Prometheans - but after we are introduced to them doing a mirror exercise they seem to have a very strange idea of what work with such a text involves. We watch them going through this process involving wordless, highly emotional improvisation based around expressing strong emotion in an extremely intense and serious manner; there’s no joking around this time, and they work themselves up into a series of frenzies that seem intent on presenting a deliberately primitive, proto-human take on affairs, as they perform at the feet of a bound tailor’s dummy that represents Prometheus. Actual language only emerges quite late in the scene and is soon smothered, a single line from the play fragmented and repeated endlessly by the actors back at each other over and over again until it loses all meaning, and their rehearsal regularly descends into orgiastic groping, grooming and fully-clothed humping.

This split between the comparatively traditional (though still rather contemporary) Thebans and the full-on avant-garde approach of the Prometheans makes me think of the distinction between the Apollonian and Dionysian styles in ancient Greek religion, which I guess makes sense given that ancient Greek dramas were themselves produced and presented in the course of a religious festival.

On the one hand, the more structured approach of the Thebans would tend to suggest the Apollonian outlook in contrast to the more anarchic approach of the Prometheans, which I would tend to categorise as Dionysian. However, when you look closer other distinctions between the groups tend to suggest the opposite categorisation. The Thebans bring a Dionysian sense of merriment to their work, whilst the Prometheans analyse what they’re doing with Apollonian seriousness. (They quite solemnly come to a decision after their rehearsal that they are going to dispense with the play’s text entirely and go with whatever they find deep within themselves in the heat of the moment, but only after a careful philosophical group discussion.) So, perhaps their differing characters comes down to something more complicated than Apollonian-versus-Dionysian after all? We’ll learn more as the movie progresses.

The scene depicting the Promethean rehearsal takes much longer than the Theban rehearsal, but I think this was necessary to give the viewer a measure of what they were doing. With the Thebans we can reasonably quickly get a handle on the various characters in the troupe because they are conversing a lot and showing a lot of their personalities, and we can soon appreciate how they seem to be kind of distracted by outside things and don’t give themselves wholly to the rehearsal (but in some ways kind of seem more interesting and human for it). Conversely, the Promethean approach is odd enough that we need to watch it and watch them for longer to really get a sense of what they are all about, and because we learn about them by immersing ourselves deeply in observing their work, that’s a nice parallel to the way that they immerse themselves utterly in their improvisation. We don’t really get a sense of what they are like outside of the improvisation until we get to watch their post-rehearsal debrief, when they sit down and talk over what’s happened.

That debrief in itself is pretty interesting. In keeping with the Prometheans’ avant-garde style, their director Thomas (Michael Lonsdale) doesn’t so much direct so much as chair the round-table discussion/chilled-out rap session so everyone can discuss their feelings - a discussion in which they are very much focused on their personal experience of putting on the improv, rather than any real discussion of what it might be like for an audience to watch what they are doing, another distinction between them and the Thebans who are very concerned with appearances.

It is at this point where we realise that Thomas is the leader of the Prometheans. Despite this open discussion approach, it’s clear that Thomas is very much in charge; he’s literally chairing the discussion, since he sits on a chair as most of the actors sit on the floor, and it’s he who summarises their discussion and declares a direction for the production once the discussion has taken place. Conversely, the Theban director Lili (Michele Moretti), despite being more openly authoritative as a director, is very willing to bring in ideas the others contribute and to give others authority when it comes to their particular area of expertise. Whereas Thomas makes a big show of trying to be super-democratic but in fact is having his own way, Lili makes the power structure of the Theban troupe explicit, and in doing so makes it possible to step up and offer her opinions to her and see them implemented as a result, and she is actively keen to give people their head when it comes to stuff they clearly have a good handle on.

In short, we have this a strange inversion going on where the superficially more traditional group (the Thebans) is actually more progressive in some respects in terms of its members being able to bring ideas to the director and see them implemented, whilst the supposedly avant-garde group (the Prometheans) in practice hasn’t so much discarded all structure so much as stripped it back to the base structure of an auteur leading his troops. The shots of Thomas addressing his troupe put me in mind of nothing less than Socrates pontificating at his students.

Whilst all this is going on, the mysterious Colin (Jean-Pierre Léaud) swans around Parisian cafes handing out fortune-telling cards to patrons and irritatingly blasting the harmonica for them in return for francs; his cards present him as being deaf and mute, but this is a sham. As far as Colin goes, we mostly get little snapshots of him - going into a cafe to work his cheesy scam, and sitting at home methodically mass-producing his little fortune-telling envelopes in a quiet manner. Later, he will spring into action and become extremely important, but at the moment he is in this strange little rut he’s carved out for himself.

At the end of the episode, we have no expectation that anything different is going to happen - but there’s a sudden shift in gear. Frédérique (Juliet Berto), a woman we have seen accosting and then having a strange, desperate conversation with a stranger in a cafe, goes to her dingy bedsit apartment and quietly, contemplatively takes a gun out of her purse...

Episode 2

Here there is something like a plotline emerging. Interwoven with our visits to the theatre troupes in this episode are the activities of Frédérique, who we start getting some insight into as she goes about her business and chats with her buddy Honeymoon (Michel Berto). In particular, like Colin she seems to be some sort of scam artist - she swindles some people out of money with a sob story about a child that doesn’t exist.

In the course of all this Colin ends up running into Marie (Hermine Karagheuz), an off-duty Theban who surprises both Colin and the audience by pressing a letter into Colin’s hands - a letter alluding to some sort of wide-ranging secret society bound up in conspiracy, intimidation, and murder. Then, when Colin gets home to his apartment (which a previous film establishes his landlady doesn’t actually have the key for) he finds a second part of the message carefully left on his mantlepiece. As he collects further pages and puzzles them out, it seems like someone is trying to push him into making contact with the Thirteen - an Illuminati-esque conspiracy invented by Balzac for his massive La Comédie Humaine sequence of novels, particularly the History of the Thirteen trilogy.

Over the course of this episodes we see various indications that the Thebans and the Prometheans have these curious social links and interests that suggest that they have aims and goals beyond the interpretation of Greek tragedy. Lili and another Theban, whilst taking a break, talk about a certain Georges (who never comes onscreen over the course of Out 1) and whether he might be planning something bad for Lili. A Promethean meets a mysterious older man somewhere overlooking the Eiffel Tower. At the conclusion of the episode Lili has a meeting with an old friend at the courthouse where she mentions the return of someone called “Igor”, another unseen character who is connected to Georges, whose resurfacing causes them mutual consternation. Interestingly, Lili reveals that there is no actual intent to stage Seven Against Thebes for an audience - they’re just working on rehearsing it for their own personal fulfilment and artistic development. It’s also suggested that Lili seemed to be part of some group or social circle involving this friend that she has ended up dropping out from.

Through all this, the rehearsals continue. This time the most interesting things are happening with the Prometheans. They have a brainstorming session where the group have gathered together a bunch of things which remind them of Prometheus but are not necessarily about Prometheus directly, and they talk to each other about what they have found and record themselves doing so, and in talking around the subject attempt to improvisationally arrive at a new, modern voice to cast the play in. What’s interesting about this bit is how it ends up being what is actually an interesting show-and-tell sequence highlighting the recurrence of Promethean themes and the myth itself throughout cultural and philosophical and artistic discourse, just as in the previous episodes the long rehearsal sequences were interesting performances and/or insights into artistic processes in their own right.

This gives the whole thing a strong sense of verisimilitude - that these people are not pretending to do these things, but actually are doing these things, and Rivette has composed this piece in part as a sort of documentary on these two theatre troupes that don’t actually exist outside of the context of Out 1. It also hints again at the mysterious nature of the troupes - potentially even mysterious in the sense of Mystery Schools - since this contemplation of Prometheus and his mythic resonance over time puts me in mind of the way occultists in various traditions attempt to invoke deities associated with the work they want to accomplish.

The process here reveals further contrasts with the Thebans: Prometheans have so far been doing interminable preparation prior to putting together something resembling an actual performance, whilst Thebans have been practicing actual performance and then doing autopsies on it afterwards to debate what’s working and what isn’t and pull out resources rooted in ancient Greek civilisation more or less exclusively to use as the jumping-off point for their ideas. The Prometheans are seeking to find a new voice and new words to express these ancient themes, whilst the Thebans are looking to the original words to try and find something new in them.

The Prometheans’ wordless improvisational tantrum-orgy-rehearsals now revolve around an actor in the place of Prometheus instead of a dummy. What ensues is alarming, violent, and almost cult-like. In the roundtable discussion afterwards it is clear that other actors in the group have gone through this before, making it a sort of initiatory experience for the participants since the ones who haven’t done it are apparently quite new to the group. The actor at the centre of the exercise here is the one who previously had trouble enunciating what a modern Prometheus might say and think, and ends up having an inspirational breakthrough through the process, but also starts talking about having an out-of-body experience during all this, which further suggests that there’s an occult dimension to these rehearsals - that they are not solely about art, but about using art as a means to an esoteric end.

Crucially, Thomas mentions that they once did this with none other than Lili as the “victim” of the exercise, and it went really badly, simultaneously revealing that the two groups were once a single, unified troupe and also that there was a schism that came hot on the heels of that incident.

Episode 3

Here we go further down the Balzac rabbit hole. It begins with Colin, still presenting himself as being mute, visiting an unnamed literature professor (Éric Rohmer) to discuss the Thirteen in Balzac’s work. This sequence basically turns into a lecture to the audience about this, raising interesting points about how Balzac’s work regularly gets deep into the workings of secret societies and conspiracies, but in a contradictory fashion the Thirteen are defined mostly in the Human Comedy sequence by their absence. They are mostly involved in the three stories known collectively as the History of the Thirteen, but even then you don’t really know what their deal is, you just see some occasional furtive activity and occasionally they do stuff to resolve the plot of the stories.

After the History, the Thirteen almost entirely disappear from Balzac’s work, at least as an cohesive organisation - their members appear now and again and do stuff, but it’s far from clear that these appearance have anything to do with their previous association with the Thirteen. Juxtaposing this lecture with shots of Frédérique’s mysterious movements underscores the fact that all through the film so far we have been seeing just the sort of furtive but unexplained activity the professor mentions.

Another interesting thing the professor notes is that the Thirteen in Balzac do not actually have any grand plan or ideology - they exist entirely to further the individual whims of the membership. However, Balzac’s The Seamy Side of History posits a mirror image of the Thirteen - a conspiracy for charity and good to match the conspiracy for evil and greed, and in particular a conspiracy which uses the same methods and techniques as the Thirteen to provide this counterbalancing force. This recalls the note Colin received in which it is suggested that there may be two Thirteens. The question is, which one has become involved in Colin’s life? Does this division have a parallel in the division of the actors into two troupes? Which of the two are the benevolent grouping, and which one is out to shake hands with danger?

(In particular, this made me wonder whether the good guys are the Prometheans, who seem to be very much intent on an ideological agenda to perform some sort of collective good, and the bad guys are the Thebans, who regularly seem to be distracted from their rehearsal work by their own private interests.)

Meanwhile, the Prometheans are doing the first one of their rehearsals we’ve seen which involves substantial amounts of (apparently improvised) dialogue. It occurs to me that what they are essentially trying to do here is not so much interpret the play as discover a new play with the same themes, or even - as I suggested before - discover and/or channel Prometheus himself. I also find it interesting that just as the Prometheans finally seem to have found their voice, we finally hear Colin’s voice - the phoniness of his deaf-mute act is exposed at the close of the episode when he stops into a phone booth to phone home. (The call suggests that whilst he is living this dropout life, his family are well-connected.)

Meanwhile, we learn more about Frédérique. When she isn’t scamming people she seems to lurk about her room singing whimsically to herself and doing odd melancholy little rituals. Frédérique’s meeting with her friend Marlon (Jean-François Stévenin) - a fellow petty criminal who she pickpockets even as they’re talking shop about their various cons - explodes into a shocking display of violence, made all the more sickening by the fact that nobody seems to care or take notice of what happens or intervene to help. The waiter just stands behind the bar and then serves her scotch once it is all over.

Between these two scenes Frédérique seems like someone who lives a very worldly, unglamourous life, but who in her private world seems to want something a bit more out of things that has as yet not been filled by philosophy or spirituality but could well be. (Conversely, in his home life as we saw it in episode 1 Colin seems like a deeply dull human being, and it’s only this quest that’s fallen into his lap which seems to have motivated him to go and try and accomplish something.)

The episode also starts introducing significant new factors into the mix. A new group is introduced - a cabal meeting at a “head” shop who seem to be planning on putting together a new underground newspaper using a million francs in funding they have somehow obtained. Their relevance is, at this stage, obscure. Also, there is a sequence where Thomas meets his friend Sarah (Bernadette Lafont) at a labyrinthine house by the sea where she is staying - we will come to know this as the Obade, a locale of import to both theatre groups. For the most part, he is trying to convince her to come in and collaborate on the Prometheus thing, but bizarrely - and quite without warning - they start off on a little tangent midway through the conversation talking about a ghost or some similar such entity haunting the house which they have both seen, before moving back to the original topic.

By this point in watching, I’ve become used enough to the odd tempo of the piece to start picking up on more general things that seem to crop up across episodes. For instance, in classic French art film style everyone seems to be smoking all the goddamn time, to the extent that they light their next cigarette off the dying ember of their previous one so they can continuously puff all day long. Come on, guys, Prometheus didn’t steal fire from the gods just so you can use it to overindulge like that.

Episode 4

At the start the Thebans have gone out to a cafe to do some planning, when Colin suddenly enters. This is a jarring moment because it’s the first time we see him proactively seeking answers from them, accostng Marie to ask if she is the one who gave him the message that drew him into his investigation. (She deflects.)

Colin stays in full-on detective mode for much of the episode; he uses a press pass obtained with the help of his father to try and infiltrate the head shop’s newspaper, since he believes them to be connected to the Thirteen. Following up on that lead, he has an odd discussion with the woman (Belle Ogier) who seems to lead them - she calls herself Pauline when she’s there, but at home she calls herself Emilie. She offers him the chance to ask three questions of her; his first is whether he himself is one of the Thirteen (she replies that he is “more like eleven” and gives him a parable about him being the Unknown One), the second is whether she is one of the Thirteen (she kind of deflects it but seems to demonstrate a secret handshake to him), and then he keeps the third to himself for future. Then Lili arrives to speak to Pauline and Colin very evidently notices her arrival, heightening his suspicion of the Thebans (and indeed this seems to confirm to the audience that the Thebans and the head shop clique are connected somehow).

Meanwhile, the Prometheans are not standing still. As Thomas and Sarah take a walk on the beach near the Obade, Sarah accuses Thomas of “not travelling alone” by Sarah, and specifically of travelling with “twelve or thirteen”. He seems to admit to being in the Thirteen, as does she - but notably, neither of them really seem to know what it means to be one or why they are part of it, creating the incredible impression that these two friends have been, unbeknownst to each other, part of the same secret society and yet were neither entirely aware until now of each other’s presence in the society and not really aware of how they personally came to be there in the first place, as though being part of the conspiracy is a vocation which you don’t realise you have until you’ve followed it for a while. Sarah joins the Prometheans and they actually sit down and read a bunch of stuff from the original script for the first time since we started following them.

Two important plot developments occur in this episode. Firstly, a new member joins the Thebans - the mysterious Renaud (Alain Libolt). Secondly, Frédérique steals some correspondence which seems to relate to the affairs of the Thirteen somehow - at last drawing her into the main plot, and prompting an investigation of her own.

Episode 5

The addition of Sarah to the Prometheans seems to be making their work come together; she integrates into their strange improv rehearsals very well and adds a seaside theme to their work, calling to mind the scenery around the Obade. Conversely, Renaud has disrupted the Theban dynamic; he is pushing ideas about lighting and staging and generally nudging them in the direction of actually cooking up a way to perform the play, but Lili loses enthusiasm and prefers things in the stasis they were before - nicely exemplified in the way that in the process of pushing these ideas Renaud ends up drawing people out of the circular group dance the Theban rehearsals ritualistically begin with until the dance is entirely dissolved.

Later, we see another rehearsal where Renaud is entirely in charge and is shutting shit down and running down people’s particular styles and generally being an auteur-director. The rehearsal is thrown off-course by outside events - Quentin (Pierre Baillot), a prominent member of the Thebans comes rushing in excitingly declaring he’s just won a million francs on a bet. (Specifically, he claims to have used a numerological method to bet on the horses). They are all excited because they will be able to rent a new space and actually put on the play - but in the process of them frothing over with these ideas and plans, Renaud disappears with the million francs.

Although the disruptive element is gone, the devastating betrayal puts the Thebans into a foul mood, to the point where they can’t stomach doing more rehearsals for the time being and resolve to track down Renaud. (This is rather shocking, because suddenly it seems like an actual plot is unfolding at a conventional pace.) Then they cheer themselves up by tearing up an advert for an official government culture festival that seems intended to bring theatre groups together at their own expense as an exercise in making the department of sport and culture look like it’s doing something without actually requiring any real funding for it.

Episode 6

Just as there are two Thirteens, there are two ongoing investigations into them, conducted by different characters and exhibiting contrasting styles. Colin, though masquerading as someone he is not, is trying to befriend the conspirators in order to find out about them; Frédérique, in contrast, tries to extort money out of them or otherwise exert leverage. (She’s kind of bad at it.)

These differing approaches reflect their assumptions and worldview: Colin is curious and wants to find out what the secret society is, and is open to the idea that it might be something very deep, couches his search in terms of a search for the absolute. Frédérique, in contrast, thinks she already knows what it is about, and has a very cynical idea of it: she thinks it’s all about amassing power and money and doing what you want, being a predator instead of prey (in keeping with a conversation she has in episode 5 with Sarah).

In this episode, Colin actually shows up in the practice space of the Prometheans, having traced a contact of theirs from Pauline’s shop. The irony is that he arrives there in his investigation of the Thebans, just as the Thebans have departed their own practice space in pursuit of their own investigation. Meanwhile, behind closed doors those Frédérique has shaken down talk about her and the correspondence she has stolen. The letters suggest that the mysterious offscreen presence of Pierre suspects a member of the clique of having broken some pact - a matter they take very seriously - and they also end up talking about Colin and speculate that he is an agent of Pierre’s.

By this stage, a curious transformation has taken place in Out 1. Whereas in previous episodes each scene seemed detached from the rest and rather pointless, all the different strands have now come together so that everything is meaningful and we can apprehend at least the broad brushstrokes of the context of everything that is going on. The stakes seem to be getting higher and higher as well; Lili and Pauline commit a violent act well beyond anything that it’s so far been hinted that the actors or the head shop crowd have been shown as being capable of - which of course means that Pauline’s talk earlier about what Pierre might be capable of is all the more credible. Moreover, we see that they have a storeroom in the head shop with trunks full of currency and passports, and they have people they can call on to take away a body. Lili goes into exile from Paris, and makes for the Obade, where all the secret societies’ plots seem destined to come together.

Colin, for his part, gets more impatient and forceful with people in his investigation, progressively more desperate. In particular, his growing romantic feelings towards Pauline and his intense reaction to being rejected by her seem to be a major obstacle to him being the calm, placid seeker of ultimate truth he presents himself as much of the time. For a while we have been observing him wandering around and around in the streets of Paris, repeating the strange verses in his messages from the Thirteen, apparently convinced that there is some hidden key he has not appreciated yet. Just as Colin seems to be completely going off the deep end he ends up discovering the encrypted name of the mysterious Warok (Jean Bouise), who Frédérique has discovered is part of the conspiracy…

Episode 7

The Prometheans start this episode apparently triumphant. Their newest member has finally managed to give her all in an exercise and lose her self-consciousness, whilst the Thebans are scattered to the winds with their director in hiding. Various conversations are had where sometimes the conspiratorial hints from earlier seem to have a mundane, ordinary explanation, but sometimes even darker deeds than the murder last episode seem to be on the horizon.

However, due to the actions of Lili and Pauline/Emilie, the cabal seems to have reached a point of crisis; Thomas, flanked by two Prometheans, shows up at the Obade to meet Lili and Pauline in a sort of diplomatic delegation. (He seems to be feigning illness, probably as a gambit to make himself seem unthreatening.) They claim that Sarah and someone else has left the Prometheans and caused the group to collapse, but we don’t see that happening directly so it isn’t entirely clear whether that is true.

Meanwhile, Colin - who had been proceeding so carefully and cautiously - seems to have had his investigation collapse around him. He’s spoken to Warok, but Warok gave him nothing, learning more from the meeting than Colin himself did. Frédérique, who went about her investigation in with basically pragmatic, self-serving ends, seems to have voluntarily abandoned it and, by playing at secret societies with a young man Honeymoon introduces her to, ends up falling in love with him and finding something special and important with him… but it’s Renaud, who’s stolen all that money from the Thebans, and he tells her an allegorical story about how he stole the money which casts him as the hero and seems to invite her into the conspiracy with him.

Colin has a meeting with Sarah in the Promethean rehearsal space and talks to her about Pauline, a conversation during which some of her dialogue is played backwards in a manner anticipating David Lynch. Wherreas in Twin Peaks the actors involved were able to pronounce reversed syllables, so that the backwards talking comes out as intelligible speech, here the meaning is destroyed, but Colin seems to understand what is said anyway. The reversal motif is notable because Colin got “Warok” out of his message by arranging some portions backwards, but still raises tantalising questions. Is Sarah really speaking backwards, but in a way that Colin is nonetheless able to understand because he has brought himself to a higher state of awareness, or has Colin’s obsession with backwards messages started bleeding into his perception of reality? At some point in the conversation, Colin himself starts talking backwards too.

Episode 8

At the Obade, Thomas is still acting as though he is ill - in fact, it reminds me a lot of the sick Prometheus he portrayed in one of the Promethean rehearsals, almost like all that work was preparation for this meeting of the conspiratorial cliques. He and his crew start playing mind games on Pauline/Emilie and gaslighting her; for instance, they start insisting that Sarah is about and creeping around the house when Emilie doesn’t think she is there, which in itself is a sort of callback to that ghost talk that Thomas and Sarah had and talk about summoning it.

Eventually Emilie and Sarah have a conversation about Emilie’s attempt to blackmail Pierre. Some dialogue is replaced by harmonica playing like Colin’s - obscuring important parts of the conversation, much as the backwards-talking in Sarah’s conversation with Colin functions. We also see a last reoccurrence of the Lewis Carroll motifs that have been cropping up across the episodes. (There’s references to Snarks and Boojums in the communication Colin receives from the Thirteen, and Frédérique and Renaud referring to themselves as the Red Queen and White King in episode 7.) In particular, a long section of the conversation between Sarah and Emilie is filmed literally “through the looking glass”. (Scene also has a motif of the image occasionally going black whilst the sound remains continuous, in a way which feels semi-deliberate instead of just a technical goof, and between that and Sarah’s creepy behaviour it gets really eerie.)

Frédérique’s investigation ends in horror and tragedy. She receives a note from Renaud offering to reveal to her secrets of his secret society, and revealing the name of it - the Companions of Duty, an organisation alluded to in Belzac in connection to the Thirteen. However, this causes her to distrust him, because through the letters she has stolen Frédérique has picked up hints that the Companions’ name in French - Les Compagnons du Devoir - is a multilingual pun playing on their true identity.

Thus, Frédérique ends up lurking at the meeting point she was directed to by Renaud wearing an honest to goodness bandit’s mask, dressed in her tomboy disguise and toting a gun, her play-acting with the gun from earlier become terribly real. Renaud, also armed, shoots this mysterious figure on spotting her. It’s worth noting there that in the Theban myth-cycle, Oedipus acted as the unwitting agent of fate when he killed his own father, the King of Thebes, not knowing who he was - an accident that cleared the way for Oedipus to go and settle the riddle of the Sphinx, marry his own mother by mistake, and then abdicate on discovering his crimes, kick off the succession crisis that would lead to the action of... Seven Against Thebes.

We are left to contemplate, to our dread and horror, what could possibly be meant by the pun Frédérique noted in the name of Les Compagnons du Devoir... because sweet Jesus, what sort of vile individuals gladly go around calling themselves the Devourers?

Meanwhile, Colin - who had been far more fanatical about his investigation than Frédérique ever was about hers - seems to have abandoned this weird occult underground altogether. He’s changed his attire to something more straight and square, and he pays a quick visit to Warok to apologise for his intrusion, explaining that his conception of the Thirteen was a juvenile fantasy and he feels better for having abandoned it. A bit later, towards the end of the episode, we see that Colin seems to have returned to his old existence. Colin had described what he was doing as “questioning the Sphinx”, making him perhaps a failed Oedipus figure where Renaud succeeded all too well.

However… after Colin leaves, Warok and Lucie (Françoise Fabian) - a high-powered lawyer who has acted as a fixer for the Thirteen over the course of the movie, to the point of leveraging the stolen correspondence out of Frédérique’s hands - have a rather revealing chat. They come to the conclusion that the message was, in fact, deliberately transmitted to Colin by the unseen Pierre; Warok suggests that Pierre is making a deliberate bid to try and put “the group” back together by sending such messages.

There is, in fact, a general strand across this episode of damaged relationships within the conspiracy being restitched, as though Colin and Frédérique have been the catalyst for a great healing of the social circles they have passed through on their respective missions. Thomas admits to Lili that he was basically doing Prometheus Bound as a reaction to what she was doing - thus admitting that, contrary to what was said earlier, the Thebans represent the original theatre group and the Prometheans were a splinter faction. Thomas urges Lili to return to acting and reunite the groups; she is initially unwilling, but eventually agrees if they do something entirely original instead of constantly rehashing the Greek dramas, thus completing the process Thomas had begun of moving away from the source texts.

The future of the reunited groups does not seem to include Thomas, however. In the closing moments of the episode, the Prometheans do a strange chanting ritual on the beach. Thomas freaks out, declares he doesn’t want to do it any more, screams at everyone to leave him alone, and collapses unconscious - but it’s all a put-on. The exasperated Prometheans, their patience finally lost, abandon him there on the beach as he is near-paralysed with laughter turning to crying turning to laughter turning to crying, lapsing into a melancholy silence. The last thing we see in the episode is a brief shot of the messenger Theban standing by a statue, apparently already on another mission.

We are left with the question of whether the reunion of Prometheans and Thebans will end up being more - or less - than the sum of its parts. As some of the cryptic, occult dialogue has it: “In the name of the salamander, by flames and by ashes, two and two no longer make four.”
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at 20:05 on 2017-06-25
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