Lost in the Movies: The Favorites - Celine and Julie Go Boating (#97)

The Favorites - Celine and Julie Go Boating (#97)

Before (or after) reading this review, I hope you'll check out my first narrated video essay, which went up late Monday.

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974/France/dir. Jacques Rivette) appeared at #97 on my original list.

What it is • What if Alice, rather than following a white rabbit down its hole into Wonderland, followed another Alice? Celine and Julie are in the long tradition of female heroines entering a strange world (think not just Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy, but cinematic distaff duos in Mulholland Drive, 3 Women, or Persona) yet the extent to which these two fall into an alternate reality, and the extent to which they are creating it, is never quite clear. An air of mischievous play suffuses the film, as if the actresses - and their director - are making it up as they go along. Julie (Dominique Labourier), the seemingly more sensible Alice of the two, is a librarian who begins to chase and is then followed by Celine (Juliet Berto), our sexy white rabbit, an actress/compulsive liar who muffs Julie's love interest and tells her friends that Julie is her sister. The film's "plot" begins when the two pranksters swallow hard candies which magically transport them inside a strange, seemingly abandoned house where a morose family enacts an ever-repeating melodrama of betrayal, resentment, and grief. It's up to Celine and Julie to rescue a little girl who will be murdered - to reset this fatalistic narrative, to take control over it as they have over their own freewheeling lives. Celine and Julie Go Boating - a hard film to explain, but as much an atmosphere as a story - has been called by David Thomson "the most innovative film since Citizen Kane," and though its innovations are more in the nature of mind games than technical tricks, it really is a trip.

Why I like it •
I'm not sure I have the best attention span or sharpest focus; in fact I know I don't - sometimes, watching even films I enjoy, my mind will float away or I'll start thinking of what comes next in the movie. Many films build this restlessness into their very construction, egging the viewer into a state of anticipation. Jacques Rivette's films are different. I await developments to be sure, but with a sense of wonder and curiosity rather than impatience. Somehow, for me at least, from their very first frame they cultivate an air of enjoyment-in-the-moment. I once described Rivette's cinema as "slithering across the screen like a boa constrictor, so long you lose track of time and find yourself hypnotized by the movement; [the movies] contain multitudes within their bellies - these are films you can get lost in." Yet at the same time, Celine and Julie is not only a sensuous experience, it is a movie full of ideas, if you choose to pursue them. Who are the "ghosts" in this "haunted house" that Celine and Julie observe? Are they characters in a conventional narrative film, one much unlike that which Celine and Julie inhabit in their own lives? Most interesting to me is that, when they eat the candy and immerse themselves in the "story" of this house, the lighting is crisp, the actors look real, and we generally experience the incidents as if we were watching a movie. When, at the film's end, Celine and Julie sneak into the house itself, no longer taking candy to get there, the lighting is bizarrely imbalanced, the actors wear garish makeup, and their delivery seems fundamentally out-of-tune with their surroundings (hence Celine's and Julie's contagious giggles). This is the difference between watching a finished movie, and participating in a film shoot on a set; or, to put it differently, the difference between the "total film" we imagine in our heads and the artificiality of how this concrete product is created. No doubt this reflection would have great meaning for the New Wave generation, which graduated from passively admiring the beautiful illusions of Hollywood to analyzing the images that created these illusions to creating their own images - often self-consciously. So then, to cut myself short, I like this film because it makes me both feel (a luxurious relaxation in the moment) and think (about the nature of movies and "reality").

How you can see it • Celine and Julie Go Boating is not on American DVD, but as I write this the film is available in its entirety on You Tube (click closed-captioning for English subtitles - apparently only on the first half, however :( ). Get over there fast! If the link no longer works, well, just find some hard candy, start sucking, and wait for the shock... (I also discussed Rivette's work in a review of his debut, Paris Belongs to Us.) update 2015: I finally wrote a full review of the film, comparing it closely to Mulholland Drive, following a screening of the two films.

What do you think? • What is the relationship between the house and the outside world? Are they both fantasies, of a different nature? How does Celine and Julie relate to the darker, more brooding films like Out 1, L'Amour Fou, or Paris Belongs to Us which preceded it? What facilitates the lighter, more playful tone? Did Jacques Rivette have Ingmar Bergman in mind when he created his melodrama-within-a-comedy? Did you have him in mind when you watched it?


Previous week: Lost in Translation (#98)

Next week: Dogville (#96)


Mike said...

Well I clicked the link and it seems the subtitles in Part 2 aren't working :( Not sure if it's worth watching part 1 as a stand alone or to try watching the second part without knowing what the characters are talking about. I don't know a word of French so I'll be lost haha. But the way you write about it this film doesn't sound terribly interesting to me, but then again the whole point of watching these films on your list is to broaden my own horizons.

Joel Bocko said...

Damn, that's frustrating - is there a closed-caption button or anything you can activate? I've noticed sometimes that's the case with these subtitled clips. I'll check it out when I get the chance.

Rivette is at least worth trying (and if you're in New York, I think it's playing now at Film Forum), as he's such a unique director. If you liked the low-key, playful vibe of Lost in Translation you might enjoy this. Besides, the girls (especially Juliet Berto) are cute, which never hurts.

Anyway hope I did not play up the intellectual side of the film too much - above all, it's a lark, a lot of fun: all of Rivette's films are games in a sense, and you get the feeling that's what they were like to shoot as well.

Joel Bocko said...

Oh and check out the Fists video when you get the chance - the first half (I split the video in two today) does not include the major turning point of the film and I hope people will check it out, then see the movie, and return to see the second half and then discuss it. It's one of my favorite films of all time, with such verve and style (and charismatic leads), and will be appearing pretty high on this list. I've covered it more times than any other film on this blog by this point.

The video skips/hiccups more than I like (maybe to do with frame rate though I tried to optimize it for You Tube) and the information might be a bit dense - my next video essay (in a week) will probably be more visual than verbal) but I hope it serves as an interesting examination of a fascinating film.

Mike said...

I'll try to check out the video essay soon. I've never heard of the film before but it looks pretty cool. The Dogville dvd has been added to my Netflix queue so I'm good to go for next week.

I totally hear you on the 'girls being cute' part. I just watched Godard's Contempt, which was pretty good, but what made it extra compelling was Brigitte Bardot. Wow was she hot in that! What made the extra long scene in the apartment heartbreaking was while she was telling her husband she didn't love him, she was totally playing with him (and the audience) by getting naked every 5 seconds. Maybe I'm shallow but if you ask me the film is worth watching for that alone.

Joel Bocko said...

Yes, as Godard said "All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun." Or in the case of Contempt, just the former. I own the DVD not because it's among my favorite Godards (I think the budget and widescreen and color, at least at this early juncture, stiffen him up a bit) but because Barfot is sexy as hell, Raoul Coutard catches some gorgeous colors, and George's Delerue's haunting score may be the greatest ever.

Fists I love for many reasons but it doesn't hurt that Paola Pitagora (haven't seen her in anything else yet, though she's in Pontecorvo's Kapo) is a fox. Did a visual tribute to her too a couple weeks back.

Shamus said...

Joel, I just watched your video essay and it was excellent! Some of the best film criticism of the past decade, oddly enough, was from these video (or film essays) by Thom Andersen, Tag Gallagher, and a few others. I haven't seen Part 2, since I haven't seen the movie yet.

How do you make a video essay anyway? I mean, adding voiceover to a splinced-up video. I assume there is a program that can do this?

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks Shamus - glad a few people seem to be watching this now. The initial view count was just embarrassing, haha, especially in comparison to people clicking on the link itself (which I can't quite figure out - did they think it was a video ON an essay lol).

I used Final Cut Pro to edit the video essay - in other words, I cut it the same way I would a movie with original footage. (To get the clips in usable format, I utilized MacTheRipper and MPEGStreamline, both of which I also use for screen-caps.)

So that's the technical aspect. More challenging, I found, was the stylistic aspect because I'd done video essays before without narration and actually found it easier because the approach is strictly aesthetic. My personal favorite post was of this sort and you can see it here:


Whereas with narration, you're mixing the aesthetic and analytical and it's hard to strike the right balance, at least that's what I found. I want the images to flow with a sense of their own rhythm not just to illustrate what I'm saying but it's tricky to find a way for them to do both. Hopefully I succeeded somewhat there though I think I'll get better at with more practice.

Anyway I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you see the film. It's one of my favorites. I'll also be interested in your take on my commentary in part 2, and your own perspective on the characters & style.

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