#265 Celine & Julie Go Boating

Céline et Julie vont en bateau
(1974, Jacques Rivette)



So, last time we watched a movie about close female friendship framed as a road movie. Well, this time we’re taking another look at a movie about female friendship, and I swear I didn’t plan that. Today, we’re taking a look at Celine & Julie Go Boating, a French movie about…two women and a mysterious house???

While sitting on a park bench one day, Julie (Dominique Labourier) witnesses a young woman, Celine (Juliet Berto) clumsily walking past, dropping her scarf and sunglasses. Julie picks them up and chases after Celine, leading the two to become friends and eventually move in together. After flirting with switching identities, with Celine disguising herself to meet Julie’s childhood sweetheart and Julie hijacking an audition scheduled for Celine, they eventually become fascinated with a strange house that seems to be telling its own story.

Basically, this movie is weird. It’s three hours of French weirdness. It’s a somehow more confusing Mulholland Drive in Paris with less overt lesbianism.

I have no idea how to review this movie. It’s a movie with a message somewhere, a movie that apparently questions movie narrative and plays with it. Loads of reviews describe it as a depiction of childlike innocence and imagination in adulthood. I guess I kind of saw both of these things, but ultimately it seemed to be two strange women meeting up, acting weird and then suddenly ending up going all meta on an entirely separate movie.

In fact, the first hour consists of Celine and Julie meeting up and speaking in obtuse code to one another before suddenly sharing an apartment for no apparent reason. Oh, these two have great chemistry and I believe their friendship. But while I felt Thelma & Louise was a realistic portrayal of two vastly different people being friends despite their differences, Celine & Julie is the portrayal of two women who are only friends because nobody else understands what they’re saying. I know I certainly didn’t.

The house subplot, however, was somewhat interesting, even if I didn’t quite understand it. After visiting a strange house, the leads pick up sweets that allow them to witness snippets of a narrative. In this narrative, there seem to be a group who don’t entirely trust one another, and possible affairs occurring within the group, and ultimately a little girl ends up dead with a mysterious handprint on her back.

Being a murder mystery this naturally intrigued me, and I liked seeing everything unfold, and the unusual alterations Celine and Julie gradually begin to make with the marionette-like cast as the movie progresses was vaguely fascinating, but by the end of it I was just screaming at the screen for answers. What does it all meaaaaaaaaan?!?!

At three hours, this much sustained vague weirdness gets a little grating. The movie actively messes with the audience and laughs at us, keeping us out of the loop at pretty much every turn. About the only answer we get is who the killer in the second narrative is, but this doesn’t explain why the second narrative is even there in the first place.

Essentially, there’s a great story in here, maybe even two great stories that have the capacity to meet, but ultimately nothing gels and it gets so wrapped up in its own quest to be artistic that it seems to forget what it’s trying to say. If you like three hours of weirdness and can understand French puns in a way that clearly went over my head, then watch Celine & Julie, but I remain utterly baffled by it.

And what’s more, the main characters don’t even go boating until the very end of the movie! What’s up with that?!

Starring Dominique Labourier, Juliet Berto & Marie-France Pisier
Written by Juliet Berto, Dominique Labourier, Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier & Jacques Rivette
Produced by Barbet Schroder
Music by Jean-Marie Senia
Cinematography by Jacques Renard
Edited by Nicole Lubtchantsky & Cris Tulio Altan

Favourite Scene: There’s a cat at the end that just turns to the camera at the end as if it’s saying “don’t ask me, I didn’t get it either, I’m just a cat” and I felt a connection with that cat.
Scene That Bugged Me: Basically everything else because WHYYYYYY

Watch it if: You felt Mulholland Drive wasn’t French enough
Avoid it if: Like me, you have no idea


Posted on March 11, 2014, in 1970s, France, Mystery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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