Herb Shellenberger

Jacques Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating (1982)
September 6, 2013
International House Philadelphia
Philadelphia, PA, US

Part of Directors in Focus: Jacques Rivette
Introduction by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum

Like a Borges story swathed in a silk kimono, the maze-like turns of the epic-length Céline and Julie Go Boating are so welcomingly sensual, you’ll be just as likely to laze in the film’s warm beauty as you will be to decipher its Byzantine puzzles. A story about storytelling, Jacques Rivette‘s self-referential classic centers on the fanciful world of two women literally lost in the stories they tell each other. Crimson-curl-topped librarian Julie (Dominique Labourier) sees brunette Céline (Godard regular Juliet Berto)—for the first time—as she’s dazedly staggering through a park. But then, as they rapidly become best friends, the weird connections proliferate: Julie is hooked on magic, Céline is a professional magician (with a haughtily bizarre act); Céline pretends to be Julie at a meeting with an old flame, Julie hilariously and disastrously subs for Celine at an important audition; and they both take turns as the nanny at the house Céline had been fleeing from originally. Céline and Julie go from sharing a story about a haunted house to being part of a story about a haunted house — or is it a real haunted house that has been called up by the story?

The film blurs the line between the telling of the story and the story itself, as Céline and Julie, like Alice in Wonderland, become part of a surreal, drug-induced parallel universe; also like Alice, they ultimately become the heroines of the story that first imprisoned them. This enigmatic and fanciful film is one of the most distinctive and imaginative movies ever made. Rivette’s 1974 exploration of the nature of narrative is the most mischievously immersive of the French New Wave, casually bending our perceptions of both time and space even as it keeps us fully aware of its richlyrendered world. Céline and Julie Go Boating was Rivette’s biggest commercial hit in France, yet remains sadly unreleased on DVD in this country, so seize the chance to catch this masterstroke of whimsy and wonderment on the big screen!

Celine and Julie Go Boating, Jacques Rivette, 1974, France, 35mm, 193'

Jonathan Rosenbaum is an American film critic. Rosenbaum was the head film critic for the Chicago Reader from 1987 until 2008, when he retired at the age of 65. He has published and edited numerous books and has contributed to some of the world’s most notable film publications, including Cahiers du cinéma and Film Comment. He openly promotes the dissemination and discussion of foreign film. His strong views on filmgoing in the U.S. hold that Hollywood and the media tend to limit the full range of the films Americans can see, at the cineplex and elsewhere. Jonathan Rosenbaum appears in the 2009 documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism discussing the film criticism of Manny Farber, and giving his approval to young people writing film reviews today on the Internet. Rosenbaum has long been a champion of the films of Jacques Rivette and is one of the authorities on his work which he has examined closely for decades.