"Celine and Julie Go Boating" at the Brattle


At the Brattle Theatre this weekend you have an opportunity to catch one of the greatest and most enigmatic masterpieces in French Cinema. Don't miss it. Jake Mulligan explains why.

--Peter Keough

 Some films can't be described, or explained - they can only be experienced. "Celine and Julie Go Boating" is such a film.

Quiet, light as a feather, and yet astronomically ambitious, the film may be French New Wave filmmaker Jacques Rivette's masterpiece. Rivette may not be as well known as many of his peers - he certainly doesn't have a crossover  hit like "The 400 Blows" or "Contempt" to his name. In fact, his most acclaimed films - "Celine and Julie" included - aren't even available legally in the US, perhaps because they run anywhere from three to (in the case of his  legendary "Out 1: Noli me tangere") over 12 hours in length. But with what many consider to be his best work traveling across the country in a beautiful 35mm print - making a stop at Cambridge's Brattle Square Theatre this weekend - his fans can hope his domestic reputation may at last be growing.

You could  describe "Celine and Julie" as the product of its influences - a  few would be Lewis Carroll, Alfred Hitchcock, and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"  - but that would reduce to a formula a film that's as  original as cinema gets. Explaining the plot is an exercise in futility: it starts with a flirtation between two women, and moves towards a haunted house that may or may not represent the entirety of movie-watching, aided by hallucinogenic candies and filtered through an unabashed ridicule of anything remotely male. It's complex without being complicated - the film is as accessible as it is subtextually dense - and the beauty is in the unrivaled ease and casual grace with which Rivette funnels all his dreams, ideas, and images.

Rivette's form may not rebel aginst convention as brazenly as his New Wave compatriots, but his craft equals that of Godard or Truffaut at their best. His vibrant, intricately designed colors suit the films trippy nature , and the extended runtime allows him to linger on the more contemplative compositions long enough for  their beauty  to enlighten the thoughtful eye. His cinematic audacity, in everything from the film's length to its influential gender politics ("Mulholland Drive" certainly owes him a debt), truly astounds.

You could go on and on in an endless loop, like the one the film reveals itself to be, wondering what "Celine and Julie" is all about. Is he dramatizing the joy of cinema itself, of experiencing it, recounting it, and then experiencing it again? Is it a proto-feminist buddy movie, an answer to all the casual chauvinism in the films of his New Wave cohorts? On that count, could it be about the creation of cinema - the characters finding displeasure in the stories they're told, and then interfering to tell their own? Or perhaps it's about the plight of the fictional character, doomed to a "life" of repetition for spectators they can never acknowledge? It can't be reduced to any single theme - it's everything  mentioned and a whole lot more.

But to focus on interpretations and subtexts is to ignore how gracefully Rivette fills the film's 193 minutes with an orgy of cinematic pleasures. I can't think of another film of comparable length that is such joy to watch, with every second alive with the carnal pleasures of musicals, mysteries, melodramas, and more. Rivette lures you down the rabbit hole, to watch and laugh and dream like  his characters do. And the way he effortlessly combines lighthearted hilarity with heady ideas and surreal images makes it very easy to take the plunge.

Rumors of a Blu-ray/DVD release have floated around for years, but nothing official is on the books yet. And even if it were, the  filmmust be seen on the big screen, where its myriad hallucinations can hypnotize you with full effect. The fact that it has achieved such staying power, such a sense of "cult cool", confirms the power of its themes - a belief in the magic of cinema, and in the infinitely repeatable nature of storytelling. Here's a movie that says, "People change, but movies don't." I don't know what will happen 10 or a 100 years from now. But I know Celine and Julie will still be floating in that boat.

--Jake Mulligan

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