Last weekend the Seattle International Film Festival showed Out 1. The 13 hour opus had been on my list for a long time and the opportunity to see it on the big screen was the incentive I needed. I had no idea what the film was about before going into it, only that it was listed on many best films of all-time lists and that it was 13 hours long.
This film does not go out of its way to be inviting. Our Friday night screening for episodes 1 and 2 had about 30 viewers, but we were down to about a dozen dedicated fans when we episodes 7 and 8 began on Sunday afternoon. Episode 1 specifically acts as a weeding out process that less committed cinephiles will not survive. The first few hours focuses primarily on two experimental theater groups, and then two additional initially unconnected individuals (Colin and Frédérique). We seldom to never see pieces that theater groups are preparing, but instead watch hour after hour of warmups and exercises.
While it would be easy to see these extended sequences as off putting, they serve as a trance like introduction into the world that exists in Out 1. Everyone is always putting on an act; whether it be the literal acts of the theater troupes or the swindling of money by Colin portraying deaf and dumb or Frédérique faking affection towards susceptible men, each of the major characters’ lives revolve around deception. The constant artifice lets the mysterious events surrounding The Thirteen exist in a state of purgatory for the viewer, never actually sure if it is something that exists or merely a continued ruse.
The extended running time amazingly doesn’t feel bloated or extended for gimmick, but instead serves a purpose much as any of Jacques Rivette’s other directory decisions. The interconnecting relationships between characters feels organic as time feels substantive enough for them to actually interact, not a series of convenient coincidences. Likewise, as the sanity of characters begins to erode, we understand as viewers watching hour after hour without the waters clearing.
Through the first 6 parts of the film, I found at multiple times my mind making an instinctual connection to David Lynch. The Out 1’s world and the people inhabiting it exist just enough outside the real world that the viewer is unaware of any specific incongruities, but something feels a little surreal. The comparisons to Lynch rise to the surface in the later episodes as people communicate in trance like states, and dialogue is muted or spoken in reverse. It became very clear to me that David Lynch visited this film many times when creating Twin Peaks.
After 13 hours of living with these characters in their world, I could give more of a plot synopsis, but I feel it would be a disservice to the piece. The plot, while not without its convolutions, is straight forward. What’s important are the themes and moods that the film evokes. The journey is essential for experiencing Out 1. A mere synopsis will always be lacking.
As I’ve had a few days to let Out 1 simmer, my impression of it keeps increasing. The world building is phenomenal, and as I spend more time thinking about, I’m sure that it will continue raising in my personal rankings. I do sincerely look forward to revisiting this in the future, but maybe not for a while. 13 hours is a long time.