Céline and Julie Go Boating aka Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Jacques Rivette, 1974)
This 193 minutes film about two women in Paris living in a total debonnaire attitude reflects the liberty and improvisation that the movie represents. This is an experience of playful and free cinema that few great films have displayed. Weirdly connected to the Czech New Wave film by Vera Chytilova’s Daisies, where two women are getting rid of every social convention and finish in a huge orgy of food that can make anyone hungry as hell.
In the case of Rivette’s film, the two leads also acts as two child-women and it almost always involves playful acts in every scene. There is also a sense of improvisation in the dialogues and the development of the scenes. However, Rivette has stated that the script was written way ahead before filming and that the story was planned. The scenes are quite long and it is interesting to see how they evoluate. Rivette seems to have the instinct of the director who knows how to get those moments of pure cinema (borrowed from Jeffrey Anderson’s superb review at Combustible Celluloid). Especially, considering the long list of writers that contains almost all of the central actresses of the film.
There’s also a superb use of space in Céline and Julie, and it is clear that Rivette knows his Cinema. Some eliptical scenes are refleted between the two leads and the concept of location has a very deep meaning in his means of telling his story. Another important aspect of his storytelling is how he mixes imagination and reality.
A vibrant feeling of cartoon fills the acting of the two leads and it makes all senses when they are together with the little girl of the ghost house where they go and try to change the past. The freedom of Rivette’s filmmaking is unsettling at first, but once you get into his story and let yourself drift into this dream like state that characterizes Céline and Julie you are in for a memorable and a one of a kind movie experience.
With all that said, I believe that it is a monumental film that places itself within the most important films of all time, just like The Discreet Charm of the Brougeoisie or Pierrot le Fou. It is a very fun film that also demonstrates a master’s unique storytelling and his cinematic innovations. However, compared to the two aforementioned masterpieces, I would rank Céline et Julie vont en bateau as a near masterpiece. Still, I would highly recommend it to any French film enthusiast (yes John LaRue it is you I am pointing at) and every film buff.