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.
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
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
heady ideas and surreal images makes it very easy to take the plunge.
Rumors of a Blu-ray/DVD release have floated around
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
hypnotize you with full effect. The fact that it has achieved such
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
storytelling. Here's a movie that says, "People change, but movies
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.