Jacques Rivette’s masterpiece—quite possibly his greatest film—is a deceptively light-hearted confection that begins and ends (or, rather, begins again) at the entrance to a Parisian wonderland. Bespectacled librarian Julie (Dominique Labourier) pursues amateur magician Céline (Juliet Berto) across a city of dreams (hence the film’s homage-to-Feuillade subtitle, “Phantom Ladies Over Paris”), though Rivette doesn’t distinguish between the real and the imagined. Theirs is a world of limitless, initially aimless possibilities (reflecting the film’s own improvisational genesis) that are slowly honed to a sharp precision point. Those bracing themselves for (or already baffled by) David Lynch’s Inland Empire will find the seeds of that film’s madness in Céline and Julie Go Boating, what with its pervasive Lewis Carroll referents and seamless doubling effects. Céline and Julie’s friendship adheres to an emotional dream logic, so we never question the developmental gaps. These women clearly belong together and it’s thrilling to watch them sever all real-world ties (in situations where they’re each surreptitiously disguised as the other) so that they may focus on the main drama: the rescue of a young girl (Nathalie Asnar) from a haunted house that continually replays the same murderous melodrama. This story-within—which also features Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier, and Barbet Schroeder going through a series of hilariously deadpan motions—has been described as everything from an RKO programmer to a Henry James pastiche: like a fourth-wall smashing Kuleshov experiment, it is what you make of it. More important is that Céline and Julie, after several false starts and with the Proustian aid of a magical memory candy, eventually realize they can be more than spectators to the unfolding drama. The duo’s final assault on this intertextual Mobius strip is liberating and brilliantly sustained, though it nonetheless resonates with a variety of discomforting implications (read between the lines for a despondent post-May ’68 commentary) that belie the overall jocularity of Rivette’s presentation.
- New Yorker Films
- 193 min
- Jacques Rivette
- Juliet Berto, Eduardo de Gregorio, Dominique Labourier, Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier, Jacques Rivette
- Juliet Berto, Dominique Labourier, Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier, Barbet Schroeder, Nathalie Asnar, Marie-Thérèse Saussure, Philippe Clévenot, Anne Zamire, Jean Douchet, Adèle Taffetas, Monique Clément, Jérôme Richard, Michael Graham, Jean-Marie Sénia
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