MAGIC & ECSTASY IN CINEMA

Ever see a film that you loved but were unable to articulate why you loved it? No? That’s what I thought, but there are a few for me. Come on! Open up! I’m sure that there are a few for you, too! CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING is one of the films I love but don’t really understand why. I just watched it for about the 15th time last night and decided I would try to articulate why I love it so. An experimental attempt about an experimental French film. Starring the late Juliet Berto as Celine and Dominique Labourier as Julie and brought to the screen by one of the original of the French Avant Garde Film Artistes, Jacques Rivette, in 1974 — this is one of the most unusual and fascinating films I have ever seen. I guess, because I have a hard time understanding why I love it so — I’ve avoided reading too much about it.

As I was watching the three hour film last night, I decided that I will pursue more knowledge about the movie. I decided this last night. However, I decided I will write about first. I hope someone reading this has seen the film and will offer their knowledge and understanding of it. And, certainly, let me know if he/she thinks I’m incorrect.

I am familiar with French film history and am familiar with with Jacques Rivette. This is the only film I’ve seen by him that I think is worth seeing. I have sought several out over the years and have been disappointed each time. But, every time I see this film it blows me away — and, it touches me. It gives me hope and it makes me smile — a lot. I guess my love of this film grows from my belief that a small action, an encounter, a quick choice to simply dare to jump off can lead to an amazing adventure and new chapter in life. These “little” choices or actions can push you to the very boundaries not yet imagined. Or, possibly, the idea of THE incredible power of fantasy and friendship. The idea that the possibilities of all these things are without limit — and, in the end, are so extraordinary that they become ordinary. For me, this movie goes out of its way to tell us that our ordinary lives are outstandingly extra-ordinary. And, there is a bit of Alice in all of us. That, in many ways, we are all just sitting bored with a book waiting for our rabbit to lead us to lead us to a wonderland.

In Rivette’s film — which is influenced by everything from Lewis Carroll to Henry Miller to Louis Feuillade’s classic silent serial LES VAMPYRES — is hard to encapsulate into an easy synopsis. Essentially, the film is a playful and comedic look at the strange and magical friendship of two women. However, there is more going than that. I first saw this film when I was in college. I remember discussing it with my French teacher. I could, then, read and write in French but I was never able to understand it in spoken form. He was patient. He knew of this film and explained to me that the English translation of the title failed to really capture the intended meaning. There is a very significant boat ride near the film’s final moments but as I remember my professor’s explanation — the title is actually referring to a colloquiel French phrase which means to spin a wild tale, story or yarn. So, there is a dual meaning to the title.

Once the two women discover each other — Julie, a bored and sad librarian, who seems to be trying to find control in life thru the use of magical spells. And, Celine, a gorgeous/glam waif of a woman out of control and always late for her only point in life — to sing and perform lame magic at a very strange cabaret. One day — as the film tells us thru the use of silent film frame stills, they begin. Julie chases the confused Celine down a hole into the realm fantasy and adventure. They become lost in their adventure. The lines between reality and fantasy blur. And, with the assistance of magic — Julie and Celine discover a dual reality. And, in this dual plane of existence a possible explanation of ‘self’ and ‘identity’ —- and lacking of both. Men are of little importance in their world. Depending upon one’s point of view the film might take place over the course of a year or the course of two or three days. It is never clear.

As their identities begin to blur, their adventure(s) take a rather dark turn. Each finds their way to a mysterious estate which may or may not have been next door to where the sad Julie grew up. Each goes in. We, as viewers catch small glimpses at what each might have done or seen in the house but we never know for sure because both Julie and Celine are unable to remember what has happened. It takes them both a little while to remember that each time they emerge from the house they are exhausted and have to spit out a pretty piece of candy. The pretty candies turn out to be magical. And, when they suck on them — they become an audience…to their own ‘story’ …their own ‘yarn’ …they’ve gone a-boating and taken us with them.

The story of the house and the evil spirits that possess it comes to us slowly. The pacing seems deliberate. The feel is improvisational, but this seems like a feeling to me vs a reality of Rivette’s film style. And, it is in their discovered/shared/vision/story that I think I might gain the fullest understanding of what I love about the film. The friends, thru the use of Julie’s witch-like magical powers and the candy find ways to invade their story/fiction/fantasy/dual reality and take control of it. …to save a child from certain death at the hands of evil. The question that is never answered for us is if this is some form of memory from which Celine is helping to save Julie or if they have simply fallen so far into fantasy that it is madness?
…never trust a spirit who appears to be in love with Barbet Schroeder! And, don’t ever look at a fish! …You might get amnesia!

All, I know is that the story doesn’t stop there. It never stops. Like all of our lives, there seems to be a full circle Rivette weaves for Celine and Julie. And, I firmly believe that the key to this magical and happy little big film is to never allow those chances to chase adventure or friendship or relationship by — chase after it and allow yourself to fall! I love that in concept. In reality, it is not so easy. But, one can always try. One can always dream.
…and, one can always go boating. If only I knew how to get on Celine and Julies’ boat!!! If only!

I want to show this movie to people, but I never do. I once did and he hated it. I guess you take a risk when sharing something which is special to you and might not be special to another. It can feel bad when it holds no impact for the other. But, I’m sure I’m not alone. I know this film is loved.

Now, if you live in the US and Canada — you can only see this film on VHS. If you live in the UK, The British Film Institute recently released it to DVD! And, it is certainly easily available in France. It was on DVD in the early 90’s but is no longer being pressed. I read that Criterion was looking into it, but that was several years ago.

And, now, I shall begin my research on what the world’s critics think!

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April 19, 2007. Uncategorized.

5 Comments

  1. hot lunch replied:

    wow i can always rely on you for some fascinating and unique films to check out! thanks!

  2. Tim replied:

    It sounds exactly like the kind of film that makes me think “Hm, dunno about that one, but I bet Matty likes it!” I know what you mean about sharing things that you really love with other people and then they just don’t like/get it …. I never have much success at doing that in the ‘real world’, which is probably why I like pimping my favourite musicians online instead, you’ve got a much better chance of converting at least somebody!

  3. ing replied:

    I think this sounds GREAT, and I’m sorry that all those Liza Minnelli concert videos you love so much haven’t touched me in the way they touch you.

    I really love Johnny Guitar, but I think I can explain why I love it. It’s just that I can’t explain it very well. Hmmm.

  4. deldell replied:

    This is definitely going on my “to get” list. I love the French ethos of film making.
    And just by the by, Liza is one of the great stage performers of all time. She just is.
    I just ordered the Fassbinder “Querelle”. I’m so excited.

  5. matty03 replied:

    Hot Lunch — It really is a cool movie. I see/notice new things every time I watch it. It is a great lazy day movie. You know, it might be available in Canada!

    Tim – Yeah, sometimes it is very easy for me to suggest or promote a work or an artist I like — but other times — I suppose when it is more “personal” or “intimate” it can be more difficult. This is most certainly an experimental film and not for every taste!

    Ing! One day, when you least expect it — Liza will touch you. And it will catch you by complete surprise. I will not be shocked if this moment makes you jump and squeal with sequined delight! But, yes! I’d love to show you this movie! I think you would like it! I think JOHNNY GUITAR is classic cinema at it’s best and most unusual. …made of a mainstream audience with mainstream stars by a major studio during an era of repression and censorship — it managed to push every single envelope and turn the western dynamic upside down! It is unique and a masterpiece of cinema that can be enjoyed for both its camp appeal and its true artistic and socio-political stance! Brilliant film. You need to create a blog essay immediately!!!!

    Daniel! I hope it is warm in the desert. It is cold here! I’m wearing four layers and will soon be heading to the Mission with B and Ing to see the new Charbrol/Huppert film!!! Yay! I do so hope you get to see Celine and Julie Go Boating! I’d love to hear what you think of it. And, I do agree — I think Liza can be incredible. I just hate what she has allowed to happen around her these last couple of decades. But, I suppose we could all say the same about ourselves. Tho I’ve yet to marry a bitchy cantolope in a wig or hang with likes of Michael Jackson. But, never say never! My only real complaint with Liza as an artist is she tries too hard. With the exception of CABARET (for which she was born to play) —- I always feel the urge to slip her a Valium and tell her to relax. — you know, remind her that she already got the job and to just catch her breath. She rocked on the TV show a few years back, tho! You will not be disappointed by Fassbinder’s last film, QUERELLE!!! It is brilliant. I think Genet would have enjoyed it! I still think VERONIKA VOSS is his best work, but QUERELLE is without question his most queer!

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