Thursday, September 6, 2012

Céline and Julie Go Boating (Céline et Julie vont en bateau)






















CÉLINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (Céline et Julie vont en bateau)        A               
aka:  Phantom Ladies Over Paris
France  (193 mi)  1974  d:  Jacques Rivette

Rivette, among all directors, has always added theatrical flourishes to his cinema, often directing plays onscreen, where watching a rehearsal more or less in real time constitutes a cinematic reality, where seeing the same screen characters offstage would represent an entirely different reality, while the use of dreams or flashbacks, or changes in time structure, shortening it or expanding it, might represent yet other realities, where he often shifts in between states without offering narrative explanation.  After failing his entrance exam at a Parisian film school, Rivette, along with fellow film companions Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc Godard, began writing film criticism, eventually working together at Cahiers du Cinéma film magazine in the early 1950’s.  Rivette rejected this idea of an auteur theory, claiming film exists on its own level just awaiting discovery, where filmmakers must take caution not to alter or misshape its form.  Rivette’s experimentation with time led to a practice of making films well beyond theatrical acceptability, where the long version of OUT 1 (1970) is nearly 13 hours long, while the short version OUT 1: SPECTRE (1974) is just over 4 hours.  Spending his career directing both theater and films, he blends both artforms, where in this film he uses cinema as living theater.  While the audience is watching the screen, several characters in the film are watching and seeing their own version of what we’re watching, which may or may not be the same, as unlike us, only they seem to have the power to alter the events, where they are free to improvise and change or alter the dialogue, often exchanging places and becoming the other character, all to delightful effect, giving this a free-wheeling improvisational feel of the late 60’s, where liberation from all suffocating forms, including men, is the key ingredient.  The expanded wordless opening, along with the inner title which, like a Silent film, announces “Most of the time, it started like this,” which invites the audience to play along with this incredibly inventive, multi-layered film filled with such a positive spirit from the warm and wonderfully engaging performances of the two women, Juliet Berto as Céline and Dominique Labourier as Julie, who make this the shortest 3 hours you’ll ever experience, as time just races by. 

From the outset, the audience is amused by the Alice in Wonderland similarities, where Céline goes running through the park in a panic, dropping objects along the way, while Julie runs after her picking up the objects, apparently to help her, but as this sequence is prolonged, she grows more curious than helpful, lagging behind but hiding herself through an extensive labyrinthian journey through Montmartre and the streets of Paris, where the use of locations is stunning, gorgeously shot on a beautiful sunny afternoon by Jacques Renard, the beginning of which can be seen here Unknown Files #102 CELINE AND JULIE GO ... YouTube (10:15).  It’s clear there’s an unspoken communication between these two women, though they spend the opening half hour following, but avoiding each other without uttering a word.  By the next day, however, we have some idea what we’re dealing with, as the two are the best of friends, roommates, and spend every waking minute ecstatic to be alive, finding clever ways to thoroughly enjoy themselves, where their deliriously euphoric state of mind is something close to a fantasy world, an alternate state that exists just for them, where men in particular are not invited.  The overlapping events play out simultaneously, where each of them has their own unique experiences that highlights their beguiling personalities, where Julie pays a visit to a strange house where, oddly enough, a photograph can be seen inside a trunk full of children’s dolls.  Céline, meanwhile, takes a phone call from Julie’s well-dressed fiancé and agrees to meet him, where she arrives impersonating Julie, thoroughly embarrassing the poor guy (Philippe Clévenot), who never knew what hit him, eventually telling him to go jerk off in the daisies.  The entire film is an extended game they play, with the characters scripting much of their own dialogue, where they find themselves trapped in a play within a play, a composite of two different works by Henry James, the short fictional story The Romance of Certain Old Clothes and a novel later made into a play entitled The Other House, a strange and unfortunate tale revolving around murder and a cover up, perhaps the only James work to contain a brutal murder, which Rivette stages as an old costume drama with old-fashioned characters who seem to have been resurrected from mothballs, eventually turning into a ghoulish theater of the dead. 

So much of this film is so incredibly original and inventive, where perhaps the best bit in the entire film is Céline’s stand up magic act in a dive of a theater consisting of about a half a dozen men in the audience Celine holder.flv - YouTube  (1:11).  What’s adorable about this short video scene, using fake electronic music *not* used in the film, which has instead a burlesque style piano player, is the little kid to the right, who breaks out into a huge smile after she pops the balloon.  Later Julie takes Céline’s place onstage, coming up with an uproarious and simply remarkable piece of intimate theater herself, beautifully highlighting her own natural inclination to get carried away with herself:  Dominique Labourier performs in Celine and Julie ... YouTube (7:31).  Check out the guy in the lower left in the audience, as he’s simply dumbstruck, especially after she calls them a bunch of “cosmic twilight pimps.”  In this film, Rivette never distinguishes between what’s real and what’s only imagined, where the internalized adventure seems to reject memory, actively engaging a netherworld between the past and the present that exists in a fictional haunted house, like a parallel universe, much like the subsequent Rabbits sequence in David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE (2006) or the whole inverted narrative of MULHOLLAND DR. (2001), both of which seem hatched from this film.  Both Céline and Julie have what feels like dream experiences inside the house, exchanging roles in a continuously replaying murder mystery, where afterwards they forget where they’ve been unless they munch on a piece of candy that’s been transported out of that world, recreating the experience all over again, like an LSD laced hallucination, where as they rewatch it together it takes on a world of seemingly infinite possibilities, yet the laws of memory want to hold everything in place, exactly as it was.  When re-experiencing events, both seem to want to take a more interactive role in changing the outcome, which goes against all those science fiction stories that suggest if you go back in time you can’t change the outcome of history, only here there’s no such rule, as anything’s possible.  

The laws holding the repetitive nature of the story in place grow more absurdly ridiculous after awhile, as why shouldn’t it change?  Memory isn’t fixed or absolute, but is subject to any number of factors, such as age, distance, wish fulfillment, shame or regret.  In this haunted house, where the audience becomes overfamiliar with the repetitive aspects of the play, they may wish for outcomes that break through the cyclical patterns of the narrative.  In this way, the characters can literally reinvent themselves by redefining the terms, eliminating any significant male influence, which has no use here other than it’s a male who is directing the film, where part of this is his vision, but this is a collaborative process designed to envision what amounts to a feminist universe, where Céline and Julie’s entrance into the fictional world is the world they were born into, where the power of intellect and choice may lead them to entirely different outcomes than what was originally written or planned.  This flexibility is the beauty of the film, as it’s the euphoria that Céline and Julie experience together inside their own imaginations, where hallucinogens are needed to enter this self-reflective world, and where they’re free to invent new narratives.  What’s particularly interesting is the common thread of cats seen throughout, who seem to thrive on their own instincts, but also an experience unique to Julie, where at one point she visits a smaller house across the street from the usual house and visits a woman from her own past, an older woman (Marie-Thérèse Saussure) who remembers her mother.  This visit suggests these stories could have been imagined by Julie as a young girl, where perhaps there is another house nearby that might hold the key to Céline’s past, which is never revealed, where her character only looks forward.  The clash between the present and the past is met in a Surrealistic finale that is breathtakingly beautiful, a kind of serene resignation that suggests certain events remain fixed in our memories, perhaps frozen in time, where we will revisit them exactly as they are in a continuously replaying cycle for the rest of our lives.  This film bears some resemblance to the puzzle construction of Last Year at Marienbad (L'Année Dernière à Marienb... (1961), but rather than the icy and aloof model figures used in that film which has a continuously cold and calculating, near impenetrable feel, perhaps an over-identification with the male, this film, in contrast, is an ecstatic and utterly jubilant women’s vision.   

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