Sunday 6 January 2013

Celine and Julie Go Boating [1974]

There are instances of movies that have memorably deconstructed the medium of cinema or the act of watching films – the likes of Sherlock Jr, Rear Window and Holy Motors immediately come to mind. But few films with meta-narratives have also managed to be as seamlessly self-reflexive or as delectably loopy as Jacques Rivette’s avant-garde arthouse classic Celine and Julie Go Boating. The film had one of the most brilliantly conceived and incredibly humorous MacGuffins as its opening sequence which introduces us to Julie (Dominique Labourier), a librarian, to Celine (Juliet Berto), a magician. The real story, however, begins when they inadvertently chance upon a staid, empty house (referred to by critics as ‘House of Fiction’) with a sinister past concerning its former, presumably dead, inhabitants. Through a wickedly convenient plot device, they become the witnesses to the lives of a morose widower, his dead wife’s younger sister (Bulle Ogier), a coldly beautiful lady (Marie-France Pisier), and a frigid nurse, any of whom could have murdered the man’s kid daughter. The parallel Bergmanesque story, staged as a dark, disturbing and austere chamber drama on lust and simmering jealousy, and narrated in completely fragmented manner from multiple points of view and with each scene played multiple times, made for a jolting juxtaposition with the freewheeling style and whimsical tone used otherwise. Though well enacted by the ensemble cast, the chemistry between the two lead actresses was most impressive. That said, the film doesn’t make for easy viewing, particularly on account of its 192 minute running time, rambling structure, host of plot diversions, overtly idiosyncratic nature, and frequent role reversals between the two neurotic ladies.

Director: Jacques Rivette
Genre: Drama/Buddy Film/Surrealist Film/Avant-Garde
Language: French
Country: France


Sam Juliano said...

Agreed, Shubhajit that is is certainly not an easy film to watch, but it's simultaneously playful and magical, with two characters that are surely bonkers, but irresistible. It's my own favorite Rivette of all, but it does pose a daunting investment of time for those who are alienated by the idiosyncratic nature of it all. I agree there was serious chemistry between the leads.

Terrific capsule here!

Shubhajit said...

Yes Sam, I'm not surprised that you've called this your favourite Rivette. In fact, all the Rivette aficionados that I know consider this his best work. Though personally I preferred his La Belle Noiseause a little more, this film too was irresistible to say the least, as you so aptly opined. Thanks Sam.