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André S. Labarthe
A mysteriously linked pair of young women find their daily lives pre-empted by a strange boudoir melodrama that plays itself out in a hallucinatory parallel reality. Written by
David Watson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It is a misconception that most of the film was improvised by the actors. Jacques Rivette provided structure but did not let his actors "go wild", instead he let them write. A single scene was improvised, where Celine, played by Julie Berto, brags to her associates about her rich American friend. The rest of the scenes where shot from scripted material, mostly thanks to participating actors. The film is collaboration by several authors, including actors Berto, Labourier, Ogier and Pisier. Rivette's involvement in the writing was to give structure to all the contributions, tightening things up. See more »
What we miss most about our childhoods, distilled in a movie
A PERFECT, SHARED IMAGINATION: something we become entirely incapable of evoking in our adult lives. As children, it's still possible to create an all-engrossing, parallel existence played out in symbiotic harmony by two individuals calling themselves best friends. With an uncluttered and unfettered creativity, these friends are sucked into their inner story to a point that time, place and the mundane habits and duties of one's routine no longer exist, or rather, are incorporated and/or adapted to fit what then becomes one's main existence - the imagined one. What makes this movie so convincingly evoke the yearning for the magic of childhood is exactly this: the fact that this imaginative world is shared so perfectly by two friends, and not just cultivated within an isolation and individuality typical of adult age. No other movie has made me think back at my childhood best friends as vividly as Céline and Julie Go Boating!
Hours spent in a room surrounded by familiar objects turned into so many powerful talismans. Earnest "magic" rituals punctuated by benevolent, mutual derision in the little moments in which one risks getting too serious or devoid of irony. Convulsive giggling fits which end in snorting noises. Relaxed, spontaneous, touchy-feely languid poses making two friends feel like they fit each other's company like a glove. Living the present so perfectly that one is momentarily, blissfully freed of any baggage from the past or the insecurities for the future that stunt one's spontaneity in the present. This isn't just a definition of perfect, child-like friendship, but also of a simple, uncluttered state of pure happiness. Rivette captures the spirit of all these things - childhood and happiness - in a movie unlike any I've seen before. Or rather - the movie may have seemed familiar thematically, but the execution and spirit of it was something else altogether.
As other users have commented here, Céline and Julie Go Boating is inspired by both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Henry James, as well as being reminiscent of Buñuel - not just his "surreal" movies but also That Obscure Object of Desire. In the latter, Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina play the same character interchangeably. Céline and Julie do the same when they both, interchangeably play the nurse in the closed-circuit, story-in-the-story involving the man, the blonde woman, the brunette woman and the little girl in the "haunted" house - this story's plot is being played out over and over again in the two protagonists' heads as they strive to both figure its intrigue and the dark heart of its mystery out, all the while deriding the stuffy rhetoric of its melodrama (delightful!). There are clear echoes of Bergman's Persona as well, as Céline and Julie stand in for each other
namely, Céline pretends to be Julie when she meets her childhood
sweetheart and cousin Guilou, while Julie stands in for Céline when she attends the magician's audition. Touches of Buñuel and Fellini are also evoked by the dream sequences, with their typical, fragmented rhythm which mixes in dreams, reality, thoughts and imagination. Though innovative and timeless, Céline and Julie Go Boating does also belong to the decade in which it was made, as it has a recognisable 1960s/70s surrealist aesthetic and an interest in "inner landscapes", not for their own sake but for what they say about the psychic goings on of human beings.
Purely thematically, this movie also brought to mind Peter Jackson's 1994 movie Heavenly Creatures. However, though the latter was made exactly 20 years later than Céline and Julie, it is decidedly more "misogynistic" in spirit, to be fair perhaps not consciously or intentionally so. Why am I calling Jackson's movie misogynistic? Because ultimately, unlike Céline and Julie Go Boating, it treats the symbiotic, shared, female imagination that's allowed free rein as something negatively irrational, uncontrollable, dark and finally, destructive, the lesbian undertones becoming morbid rather than light-hearted, humorous and feel-good as in the Rivette's splendid and highly original movie.
What this Céline and Julie Go Boating told me was that in some cases, guiltlessly cultivating, salvaging and exploring one's inner and imaginative life is far more important than meeting the expectations of one's day-to-day, material duties. Therefore, solving the mystery of a "haunted" house is more crucial than, say, furthering one's career (for example, succeeding in an audition for an important, international magician's tour - Céline should have attended it but Julie does so instead, to very amusing and disastrous effect! I loved, loved, loved actress Dominique Labourier's droll histrionics during that scene!).
I have never seen a movie treat with such humour and gaiety a subject as serious, complex and potentially heavy-duty Freudian as exploring one's unresolved childhood issues. Much of this movie is about Julie's (and perhaps everyone's, to a degree) inability to assimilate the past completely (her tarot reading by a fellow librarian reveals this at the beginning of the movie - "Your future is in the past"). To put it stereotypically, the "inner child" needs to be freed before one can truly become an adult - a happy, healthy, sorted, serene, childlike adult. This process of healing is punctuated by the two protagonists by playful role-playing (both Céline and Julie have a ball taking on different identities by also donning different costumes throughout the course of the movie), an endless string of occasions for giggling fits and what is essentially a cheerful use of childish "drugs" (candy and home-made magic potions) to evoke that crucial, life-giving shared imagination. In a sentence, the psychic ailments typical of adulthood are cured with the spirit typical of childhood.
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