CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING
(Celine et Julie Vont en Bateau)
I suppose that I should apologise in advance and say that I find the majority of films of the French New Wave tiresome and pretentious. Celine and Julie Go Boating is no exception. That said, there are many who consider Celine and Julie Go Boating to be a masterpiece it is one of the handful of films that Peter Nicholls gives a five star rating to in his seminal genre study Fantastic Cinema (1983), for instance.
The film has an appealing opening a long scene where Dominique Labourier follows Juliet Berto through the streets of Paris, which all takes places as a dialogue-less tease. Soon however, the film starts to become majorly tedious as we watch the lengthy games the two girls play they amusing themselves by slamming books in a library, leaving ink fingerprints and drawing outlines of hands, conducting tarot readings. There are some extremely long scenes of the two girls sitting around Juliet Bertos apartment talking, showering, Dominique Labourier peeking into Bertos handbag, they going through a toy chest. The scenes go on and on and on Juliet Bertos cabaret magic act; her sitting around a cafe making up a long story about having an American lesbian lover to a group of friends; conversations in a dressing room while applying makeup. Jacques Rivette apparently improvised much of the picture with his cast, most of whom receive co-screenplay credits. In fact, when Celine and Julie Go Boating reaches the two-hour point of its 193-minute running time, one is still struggling to find anything amidst the interminable goings-on that resembles enough to fill the above capsule plot synopsis. There is a bizarrely amusing scene where Juliet Berto poses as Dominique Labourier and dances with her childhood friend Philippe Clevenot in a pagoda, where she appears to start seducing him, undoes his shirt and then abruptly dismisses him and tells him to go and jerk off in the bushes. When it comes to the scenes of the drama that takes place in the house being repeated over and over several times each time the girls take the candy, one is left wanting to scream at the repetitive tedium. The constant question that one asks oneself is what is there in all this tedium that people consider Celine and Julie Go Boating such a masterpiece.
All of that said, Celine and Julie Go Boating starts to pick up within its last 25 minutes. This is the point where the two girls enter the house and walk into the full re-enactment of the scene that they have been only getting glimpses of in the flashbacks. The players whose lives we have seen so far become pale as though they were ghosts. Peculiarly, Jacques Rivette plays the scenes of the girls trying to interact with the scenario and fulfil the roles they are meant to with an increasingly broader sense of slapstick. Gradually, the pieces of overlapping flashback that we have seen start to come together as a jigsaw and it becomes apparent that a murder took place. The girls manage to rescue the intended victim. The film ends with a twistabout with the girls sailing down a river (where they do finally get to go boating), before everything turns full circle. The final scene is a repeat of the girls following each other from the same park where the film began but this time it being Juliet Berto who follows Dominique Labourier.
One can also note, playing the part of the husband in the flashback scenes in the house, the films producer Barbet Schroeder who would go onto become a director with films like Barfly (1987), Reversal of Fortune (1990), Kiss of Death (1995), Our Lady of Assassins (2000) and Murder By Numbers (2002). Barbet Schroeder also made the thriller Single White Female (1992), which has many echoes of Celine and Julie Go Boating in its story of two girls in a big, mysterious house seemingly switching identities, although that only took place as a mundane psycho-thriller.