Directed by Jacques Rivette and written by Rivette, Juliet Berto, Dominique Labourier, Bulle Ogier, and Marie-France Pisier with additional dialogue by Eduardo de Gregorio and text based on original stories by Henry James, Celine et Julie von ten bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating) is the story of a librarian who meets a magician as they embark on a series of adventures ranging from all sorts of worlds and stories including a murder-mystery. The film is a genre-bending tale that feature two women who embark on this adventure that takes them to places of fiction and other forms of reality as the titular characters are portrayed by Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier respectively as Celine and Julie. Also starring Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier, Barbet Schroeder, Nathalie Asnar, Marie-Therese Saussure, Philippe Clevenot, Jean Douchet, Adele Taffetas, Monique Clement, Jerome Richard, Michael Graham, and Jean-Marie Senia. Celine et Julie von ten bateau is a majestic and whimsical film from Jacques Rivette.
The film is the story of two women with a fascination for magic who meet as they embark on a series of adventures where they encounter a house as they would play the role of a maid in a murder mystery from the past. It is a film that doesn’t have much of a plot as its screenplay is loose in its presentation but also has these layers of stories within a story that includes this murder mystery from the past. The script does feature a lot of literary references in not just some of the works of Henry James but also Lewis Carroll and Marcel Proust in relation to the idea of alternate realities. The film begins with Julie reading a book on magic where she catches Celine running through a park leaving things as Julie would follow her as the two eventually meet and become friends with Celine moving in to Julie’s apartment. Julie is a librarian while Celine is a cabaret performer/magician as the two would know more about each other’s lives but also this home near a house where a childhood neighbor of Julie lived in. There on different days, they would separately encounter this story of two sisters who are in a love triangle with a man as Celine and Julie would play a maid on different occasions where a young girl is murdered.
Jacques Rivette’s direction is largely simple in its presentation as it doesn’t emphasize on anything stylish but rather shoot on actual locations as the film is largely set in Montmartre near Paris. Shot on the 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Rivette uses the format to play into the film’s simple presentation as there are some unique wide shots of the location as well as a few scenes in a room with one of the characters in the foreground and another in the background. There are also some incredible compositions that Rivette uses in the close-ups and medium shots as it play into the way Celine and Julie interact with one another but also in how they try to figure out this murder mystery in this old house where it’s opened at a specific time. There are also these moments in the film where whenever Celine or Julie leave that house. They are disoriented as they would get these flashes of what they had experienced while they would eat a piece of candy later on where they remember what they saw. The scenes inside the house showcase these two women in Camille (Bulle Ogier) and Sophie (Marie-France Pisier) who are sisters who are taking care of their niece Madlyn (Nathalie Asnar) while pursuing her father Olivier (Barbet Schroeder) on Madlyn’s first birthday since the death of her mother.
Rivette’s direction also play into individual pursuits of Celine and Julie with the former being a magician and the latter is a librarian as they would eventually switch roles with the former trying to deal with the latter’s childhood sweetheart and the latter filling in for the former in an audition. It adds to the film’s whimsical tone while also playing into how they uncover the mystery from this candy that they eat as they would take notes on what they remember. The film’s climax is about uncovering what really did happen but also play into this idea of what is real and what is fantasy as it is followed by an aftermath that blur the lines of all of that and more. Overall, Rivette crafts an intoxicating yet exhilarating film about two women who embark on a weird adventure involving a murder mystery from the past and other alternate universes.
Cinematographer Jacques Renard does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of natural lighting for many of the daytime exteriors as well as the usage of lights for some interior scenes in the day and night. Editor Nicole Lubtchansky does amazing work with the editing with its stylish usage of jump cuts to help blur the ideas of fantasy and reality. Costume designers Jean-Luc Berne, Pierre D’Alby, and Laurent Vicci do fantastic work with the costumes from the more conservative look of Julie to the more hippie-inspired look of Celine as well as the posh clothing of Camille and Sophie. The sound work of Paul Laine is superb for the way sound is presented in its natural setting including some of the music that is played on location. The film’s music by Jean-Marie Senia is wonderful as it is largely a cabaret piano-based piece that is performed for Celine’s stage performance.
The film’s incredible ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from composer Jean-Marie Senia as the piano player Cyrill, Jerome Richard and Michael Graham as a couple of men watching Julie’s audition, Adele Taffetas and Monique Clement as a couple of fellow performer friends of Celine, Anne Zamire as a co-worker of Julie at the library, Jean Douchet as Celine’s boss at the club, Philippe Clevenot as Julie’s childhood sweetheart Guilou, and Marie-Therese Saussere as an old neighbor of Julie in Poupie whom Julie asks about the house next door. Nathalie Asnar is fantastic as the young girl Madlyn who deals with her upcoming birthday but also unaware of the tension surrounding her family with Celine and Julie observing her. Barbet Schroeder is excellent as Madlyn’s father Olivier who is in love triangle with her aunts as he deals with being in love with two women but also trying to seduce the family maid who are played on different occasions by Celine and Julie.
Bulle Ogier and Marie-France Pisier are phenomenal in their respective roles as Camille and Sophie as two sisters who are watching over their niece but also vying for the affection of Olivier with Ogier being more out there as someone who is losing her mind while Pisier plays a woman with an immense fear for flowers. Finally, there’s the duo of Julie Berto and Dominique Labourier in spectacular performances in their respective roles of the titular characters in Celine and Julie. Berto provides a bit of sensuality in her work as a magician but also this exuberance in the way she is introduced into the film while Labourier is more reserved early on while also having a few quirks of her own. Together, the two women display an air of mischievousness in how they plot schemes but also play into the way they react to the other world they’re in as they are a major highlight of the film.
Celine et Julie von ten bateau is a magnificent film from Jacques Rivette that features tremendous leading performances from Julie Berto and Dominique Labourier. Along with its ensemble cast, colorful visuals, whimsical presentation, and its story of two women going into a moment in time that also involve alternate worlds. It is a film that is definitely offbeat in its presentation and premise yet it has a looseness that is engaging to watch as well as what two women would do to uncover this murder mystery but also themselves. In the end, Celine et Julie von ten bateau is an outstanding film from Jacques Rivette.
Jacques Rivette Films: Le Coup du berger - (Paris Belongs to Us) – (The Nun (1966 film)) – (L’amour fou) – (Out 1) – (Duelle) – (Noroit) – (Merry-Go Round (1981 film)) – (Le Pont du Nord) – (Love on the Ground) – (Hurlevent) – (Gang of Four (1989 film)) – (La Belle Noiseuse) – (Joan the Maid) – (Up, Down, Fragile) – (Lumiere and Company-“Une aventure de Ninon”) – (Secret Defense) – (Va savoir) – (The Story of Marie and Julien) – (The Duchess of Langeais) – (Around a Small Mountain)
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