Film review: Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)

timthumb.phpFriday evening I took myself on a date. As an only child and a social introvert who still likes to be out of the house at times, every once and a while I need a night out on my own to remember and enjoy how the world feels solo.

I treated myself to a Udon Noodle Salad from Hip City Veg (which I can not recommend highly enough–even as a carnivore) and a high power latte from Joe (for my once a week coffee treat) and enjoyed the amazing weather, my treats, and a book in the park.

Afterwards I went to the International House (where a friend was with her friend–so I guess I was technically no longer on a date with myself at this point) where I saw Jacques Rivette’s 1974 film Celine and Julie Go Boating.

The film was introduced by well know film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum who offered some interesting insight on both the film’s production process as well as its context with the French New Wave in general and Rivette’s work in particular. He also introduced the audience to a website called Order of the Exile which is an impressive, comprehensive collection of interviews, essays and criticism by and about Rivette.  So rather than me trying to do any kind of background or explanation on him, I’m just going to recommend you go to the site.

33I enjoyed this film, possibly more than any other French New Wave film I’ve ever seen. (Don’t hold me 100% to that statement yet since I’m still digesting the film).

From the descriptions of the film as dreamlike merging of reality and fantasy, I expected a very loose and nonlinear 70s style film. One of the things I loved and respected about this film was even though these things are true and there is a blurred line between reality and fantasy, ultimately the film has a very meticulous and smart structure about it. Throughout the film Rivette sets you up for the play on time and reality without you even knowing it–there are props, phrases and cut-aways that show their relevance later in the film and you come to realize there’s a Hitchcock type precision to film. I’m still figuring out how to describe the experience of the film, but for now I can start with something like: you think you’re going to walk into a conversation with someone who is really high about reality and time, but it turns out you’re talking to a brilliant physicist who blows your mind slowly and creatively.

(Unfortunately I’m not going to give away what the big play on time and reality is, because I think it tarnishes your experience of it if you decide to watch it. If you really need to know you can read in one of the many essays in the site referenced above.)

If you enjoy Alice and Wonderland (the original book, not the Disney version) you will especially appreciate this film both for its structure as well as the many references to the looking glass as the divider between time and reality.

The film is also a refreshing departure from the male dominated French New Wave world in that it features two strong female leads (who keep their clothes on almost the entire film). The male figures in the film, as Rosenbaum said in his introduction, are for the most part “minimal and devalued.” There are also several moments in the film where they question the idea of performance and the role of women as objects to be ogled as decoration and entertainment in a man’s world. Rosenbaum shared that much of this is influenced by the fact that the screenplay was written collaboratively by the screenwriter and director (both men) with the two female actresses. The strong contribution of the actresses, said Rosenbaum, is part of what gives the film such a unique approach on women compared to other films in that era.

The film is currently not available on DVD in the US, though Rosenbaum did share that a version that will include commentary from him is in the works.


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