The writer, Charles Peguy, once reflected that Paris belongs to those who spend the summer there preparing for the winter season. In the heat of August, and in an empty Paris, Rivette documents the moral predicaments of a troupe of young actors, who, profiting by the summer, are working on a new production - Shakespeare's "Pericles" - without money and against professional advice. One of the troupe is Anne, a young student. At the outset of the film her studies are interrupted by an incident which so disturbs her that she tells her brother, Pierre, about it. He, in an attempt to be reassuring, makes light of the happening and invites her to attend a party. There Anne meets the principal characters and, without realizing it, becomes involved with them. More and more clearly, as time passes she learns that they all fear themselves to be victims of a secret conspiracy, to which the silent, empty, streets of Paris-of-August lend a disquieting face. This tension feeds constantly on the unexplained death of a Spaniard who had composed music for the play. All the circumstances which led up to the death before the start of the film now apparently begin to repeat themselves for the play's producer. Anne, who started as the innocent outsider, becomes the central figure about whom everything revolves.
Jacques Rivette's film has been claimed to be "perhaps the most brilliant and absorbing statement yet made of the pressures which the human mind has to bear in this mid-century of fear". It is a difficult, fascinating film, one which makes demands on the audience. No neat conclusion is provided, for although the external events in the story are clear enough, their meanings must be interpreted by each viewer for himself.
In speaking of his film, Rivette claims that the characters "are all tragic puppets, taking themselves too seriously, living in a sort of dream world which they can't reform". Perhaps the key to the film lies in a speech by the idealistic young director, whose staging of "Pericles'' is an ingeniously ardent challenge to the machinations of the Dark Powers - "we are life. . .we are those who reach out after a fatal secret" - and who are these Dark Powers? We do not know, and to the end, we remain in a maze where seeker and suspect are "tragic puppets", bearings are lost, dangers are real.
All of Rivette's colleagues of the new generation in France are unanimous in defining the film as the fruit of an astonishing persistance to bring to the screen a personal vision of the world, a documentary account of the confusions of his generation.