Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)
Director: Jacques Rivette
Cast: Dominique Labourier, Juliet Berto
Runtime: 193 minutes
My Rating: ★★★★★, or 10/10
In Short: Incredibly enticing and comically thrilling; one of the best of the 70s
Jacques Rivette is a director very well known for his disregard of the rules of conventional cinema. Just one aspect of this is the off-putting length of some of his films. Movies like L’amour fou, Out 1: Spectre and the masterful, all-time great La Belle Noiseuse run for more than four hours, and astonishingly, his 1971 film Out 1, noli me tangere runs for an incredible thirteen hours! The film I’m reviewing today however, Celine and Julie Go Boating, runs just three hours and is only the second Rivette I’ve seen (after La Belle Noiseuse).
Celine and Julie Go Boating is the most fun you will ever have watching a movie. The three hours feel closer to three minutes. The entire film is so fast-moving and beautifully shot that you will lose yourself in the immensely rich quality of this satirical, hilarious, moving dream. The story revolves around Celine and Julie, though the rest of the title is somewhat meaningless. Though the characters do end up in boats at the end of the film, ‘vont en bateau’, a phrase which literally means ‘to go boating,’ can also be interpreted as a French proverb meaning ‘to go crazy.’ This is exactly what Celine and Julie do. Julie, with her curly red hair and curious face, is reading a book in the park, when Celine walks past and drops something. Julie then begins a long and tiresome chase through the city, an attempt to find Celine which is long but gripping. Soon, the two women become friends and spend all a lot of time in each other’s presence, moving in together and almost constantly talking or laughing about things. However, when Julie emerges from a large mansion with amnesia, the two must piece together the events that took place inside, and change them to save a little girl’s life.
This is only part of the plot. The movie is three hours long, and does not waste a minute. There are also hilarious subplots involving Julie’s incestuous relationship with her cousin and Celine’s work as an exotic dancer that culminate in absolutely laugh-out-loud brilliant conclusions that see the two women switching places, one pretending to be the other. The somewhat non-linear progression of the film sees these events occuring at different times, and makes the payoffs even more richly rewarding. The story of the adventures of both within the large mansion, however, is the most involved part of the movie, and if the film can be said to have a plot, it is mostly revolving around this particular mystery. It involves a lonely man whose wife has died, and has left him with his young daughter. He is pursued by two methodical women who plot to marry him, though neither of them have entirely well-meaning intentions.
Celine and Julie discover this story through the aid of “memory rock candy,” which works like a drug and once they’ve taken it, allows them to remember (and even step into) their forgotten memories of what happened in the mansion. The ending of this film, which sees them attempting to save the girl from being poisoned, culminates with all the characters dancing with each other and then rowing down a stream, and the final images are reminiscent of the opening ones, a reference to the circular motion of life, events occuring over and over in a rhythmic pattern so that we may never escape them.
Every detail about this film is brilliant. However, one of the most striking things that I haven’t yet mentioned is the fantastic dialogue, written partially by the actors themselves and with an improvisational feeling that invokes a terrific atmosphere of spontaneity. Much of what is said is absolutely meaningless, weird phrases such as “There is a homosexual pancreas in the attic, disguised as Alsatians!” that serve no purpose other than accentuating the weird feeling of comic hilarity that springs from the sheer originality of the film’s material and construction. Celine and Julie Go Boating is a film filled with insanity, but it is a fun insanity that is joyous to watch, and strangely powerful. This is one of the most significant films of the 70s, and an important film for those who enjoy comedy, both conventional and absolutely batshit crazy.