What’s this? A three hour film about two women who go on random adventures with absolutely no plot to be had? Color me excited! Sarcasm aside, I really want to know what kind of drugs Jacques Rivette was on when he wrote the script to this one, as it takes the definition of the word “whimsy” to a whole new level. Celine and Julie Go Boating’s climactic sequence is exactly that; the main characters in a rowboat meandering along merrily. If that seems to contradict what you would normally consider a movie’s climax, then you better sit right down and shake all those concepts of film and movies and storytelling out of your head, or Celine and Julie Go Boating will do it for you.
The film starts off with Julie, who looks amazingly like the little orphan Annie from the classic film, sitting on a park bench, reading a book about magic. Our other heroine, Celine, soon saunters past, inadvertently catching Julie’s attention by dropping various objects from her handbag. Julie, in an effort to retrieve them and give them back, becomes involved in a sort of cat-and-mouse game with Celine, following her around the city, until one day she finds Celine sitting outside her door, and they move in together. I was reminded an awful lot of Daisies while watching this. It had the same narrative, if it could be called that; two girls who live and interact in various flighty and whimsical ways, almost as if they live in their own separate reality that only barely co-exists with our own. They laugh, they tell stories to each other, and they play with various objects they find. Then a mansion becomes involved, something about alternate realities, and the film gets to the point where even the main characters have given up and are literally changing the story of the film around on a whim to suit their fancy. This is by far one of the wackiest films I’ve seen yet from the list, right up there with Daisies, but it’s a lot more grounded than its Czech counterpart. Even with all the weird and meta stuff that happens, the film treats it rather seriously, pretty much because it’s French, and it almost seems to think it is required to. Even within these constraints, however, the film has a serious case of the giggles, and there is no rhyme or reason towards probably 90% of everything that happens, and that includes the script. Really, you don’t even have to pay attention to most of the dialogue in this film; it exists solely to transfer energy between the characters, seemingly fueling their random escapades and interactions, and right when you think a narrative is beginning to be set up, it goes flying out the window, defenestrated by the very film it tries so desperately to pin down (clearly in vain).
There was a definite disconnect I had watching this film, a cultural dissonance that almost felt like an out-of-body experience. I felt that I would’ve gotten a lot more out of the film had I been French; not just known the language, but born and bred and grown up inside the culture, and the Book’s passage about the film seems to confirm this belief. Still, this had a weird sense of delight to it, probably because it was so brazenly toying with conventions and tropes without a single care as to telling an actual story, but it worked the whole time. There’s no story, there’s no narrative, there’s no adhering to the practical laws of reality; hell, there’s nothing here for anyone looking to get into a straightforward, uncomplicated film. And that’s the fun; who wants a straightforward film when you can get that on any street corner, argues Rivette with this opus – here’s a whirlwind, a dervish of a film instead; a real toy you can play with as you watch it. Really, if the film had found some way to be a good deal shorter, this might have been a complete winner in my book, but as it is now, I’ll have to settle with merely giving it a good thumbs-up. If the length is no issue, this is an experience to be had, for sure.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10