Céline And Julie Go Boating/ Celine Et Julie Vont En Bateau
Directed by Jacques Rivette. Starring Dominique Labourier, Juliet Berto, Marie-France Pisier Club, IFI, Dublin (Oct 20), 192 min
IT’S NOT A literal boat but a figurative vessel: “vont le bateau” implies falling for a shaggy dog story or unspecified monkeyshine. No. Scratch that. Just to be awkward, there is a real boat.
Curiouser and curiouser, indeed. Céline et Julie Go Boating takes its opening cue from Alice in Wonderland and continues on down the rabbit hole at a whimsical pace.
Librarian Julie (Dominique Labourier) is sitting in one of Paris’s hot, empty summer parks and reading a book on magic when cabaret magician Céline (Juliet Berto) hurries by. Julie gives chase, leaping the formidable steps of Montmartre in order to keep up with Céline’s tram. After much rushing around and in a complete non-sequitur, the women move in together in a cosy arrangement that looks like a lesbian Morecambe and Wise bed-in.
They begin to switch roles. Céline plays Julie when Julie meets her childhood crush; Julie stands in for Céline at a cabaret audition. In a film that already resists any fixed abode, the fantasist heroines keep the curveballs coming.
Julie imagines a turn-of-the-century ghost family living at rue du Nadir-aux-Pommes. Céline duly takes a post as the family’s nanny. Following in the time-disrupting tradition of Proust’s madeleine, the time-travelling properties of candy are uncovered by the pair, who set about solving the murder of the sickly child in their charge.
It’s just shy of 40 years since Jacques Rivette’s amiably barmy contribution to the nouvelle vague found a cult audience. Rivette’s willful disjointedness was borne out of left-wing, freeform theatre and seemed to signal a formal, feminist revolution through which errant fictional female characters might wrest control of the project back from their male director. The women’s disruptions of the old- world family add to the surreal glee: take that, poetic realism.
Politics provide a neat, popular reading, but this downplays the film’s boisterousness. Rivette’s repeated allusions to magic set a mischievous, frivolous tone. The women’s tussles to be top dog in the relationship are more Pepe le Pew than Petra von Kant. Jacques Renard’s camera turns Parisian heat into roccoco hallucinogens.
Then the film flips over and starts again. And it’s still Rivette’s most accessible work.
* Screening as part of Les Films du Losange: 50th Anniversary Programme (October 7th-20th) at the Irish Film Institute. ifi.ie