Gare de l'Estrogen
Liam Wilshire | Portland, OR | 12/02/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The humming of train rails, followed by the sound of a passing train, accompanies the credit sequence of GANG OF FOUR. There will be many shots from inside and outside trains over the next 2½ hours. At one end of the line is a Parisian acting academy for young women; at the other end is a suburban house where four of the actresses live.
This world, populated almost entirely of women, is overseen by Constance Dumas (Bulle Ogier), the founder and sole instructor of the academy. At one time there were boys, as well, but they have long since been phased out. Now the theatre, painted entirely red like a giant womb, is "girls only." When men do enter the story, they arrive as interlopers and leave a path of destruction wherever they set foot.
With few exceptions, Rivette's films are about conspiracies. Or they are, rather, about the need for conspiracies, perhaps. A world without order is enough to drive one mad--and, as Rivette's CAHIERS colleague, Eric Rohmer, said in one film, "One can't think of nothing." In GANG OF FOUR, the conspiracy is never spelled out. We end the film knowing only what it may have been.
As for the four housemates, they are approached individually by a man who identifies himself differently each time. He could be a cop, he could be an arms dealer, or he could be a garden-variety grifter. It may not matter. He is a man, and as such he cannot grasp that the housemates are not subject to his idea of motive and action.
With rehearsal for THE DOUBLE INCONSTANCY playing out in the background, there are criss-crossing plots involving at least four characters with multiple identities (Constance, Anna, Claude and Thomas), as well as two characters with the same first and last name--not to mention a phony mugging, two real murders, a bottle of poison, and a ghost. Of all Rivette's later films, this plays like an all-girl version of his first feature, PARIS NOUS APPARTIENT. It is all-the-more focused for its use of gender themes. Well-supplied with facial expressions that go offscreen with no explanation, references to Marivaux and Euripides, a surprising reversal of sexual preference, and a shocking resolution, GANG OF FOUR is a comedic tragedy whose mystery lingers long after the final curtain."