A favorite films list unfolds like a strip tease, the mystery and allure gradually tossed aside as the performer reveals every elegant curve and inescapable blemish. Which means that I’m now standing stark naked, much like you were when you told me your favorite film was Fight Club or Donnie Darko or Boondock Saints or whatever it was that made me nod and pretend I was interested. That’s my roundabout way of saying two things; first that I feel that nothing, absolutely nothing, exposes all my inner-workings quite like Celine and Julie Go Boating does and in propping this up atop my list I’m laying my very soul bare to the uncharted wilds of the internet and the vultures of anonymity that circle high above; second, that I don’t expect any of you to share my enthusiasm. But as long as I have your attention, I’m going to make a case for why – out of thousands of films – it all boils down to this.
Jacques Rivette taps into a state of eternal adolescence, the feeling of childhood before being banished from the Wonderlands, Neverlands and Chucky Cheeses, fueled by curiosity and awe for as long as they linger. Call it nothing short of magic, for that’s exactly what Celine and Julie is; an unexpected and dynamic world that moves from a playful chase down a rabbit hole to a madcap murder mystery, and where two extraordinary girls explore, experiment with, and ultimately make up the rules as they go along.
Unfolding over three hours, vast thematic ground gets covered and never once with an ounce of pretension. Disguises and role reversal are played for laughs, particularly in two hilarious sequences where each girl spends the afternoon impersonating the other, as well as in the manic trade-offs that define the story within the story that consumes the second half. It precisely what a film about the wonder of storytelling ought to be, bursting at the seams with fantasy and intrigue, ever drawing the viewer further into its spell. Like any great storyteller, Celine and Julie are world builders, and we observe them from beginning, watching as a friendship develops and secrets are divulged, following them through the depths of imagination without ever leaving their flat. That the convoluted sense of time and space becomes dizzying by the end is all part of the charm.
And Rivette himself creates something entirely new. Celine and Julie is an unstable, mercurial film, the boundaries of which swell and collapses with the irregularity of Alice biting into her mushrooms, and yet we feel entirely safe, confident that neither the director nor his fanciful heroines will abandon us along the way. Not to lament the philosophies of so many other directors, but Rivette’s optimism is refreshing, especially the idea that passion, friendship, and a little art are all that’s needed to get through the day. Of course, tomorrow the cycle may just start up again, but like Celine and Julie it will begin with the promise of a new adventure, never quite the same as the last.