Corrierino Consensus Project: Celine and Julie Go Boating

20 12 2012

The users of The Corrierino forums have recently compiled a consensus list of the best films ever made. Once the votes were tallied, calls for write-ups began and I signed up to pen a few. I will post my entries here as they’re revealed in the relevant thread

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What does it mean to play? Rivette, not unlike his contemporary and fellow Parisian, Argentine-born writer Julio Cortázar, respects play and its anarchic potential. To play is to trace new limits, to overturn established orders, to perform insurrection against the forces of patriarchy and conservative society. To play is to enjoy freedom. Rivette expands the regular running time of conventional motion pictures, balloons his cinematic games into three-hour behemoths, and yet his gargantuan epics feel sprightly and light, especially this, one of his greatest accomplishments. Scenes are structured, not to convey plot information, but to carry out a movement or trace a gesture. They are motivated by the spirit of play, its curiosity, its willingness to investigate in a certain direction until another presents itself or the current one is extinguished. Nothing is useful in Celine and Julie Go Boating. It is not an efficient film. But it is not bloated either, and in a final estimation, it can even be said to be tightly constructed. For this is not an improvisational exercise, but a consciously scripted entertainment. Rivette’s challenge to convention, then, is not to renounce scripting, planning, and polish but, with these tools, make something that doesn’t convey the laboriousness of its own gamesmanship – think Nolan’s Inception, which I liked, but which pales in comparison to the nested-narratives of Raúl Ruiz and Jacques Rivette – so much as their vigorous, youthful, energetic one-upmanship of rules and expectations.

Rivette’s later works – La belle noiseuse, Histoire de Marie et Julien, or Secret defénse, from what I’ve seen – tend to feel heavier and mature. They can be more intense and reserved, as if the feistiness of adolescence were guarded in hidden caches. Celine and Julie Go Boating, by contrast, is looser and airier – even if only misleadingly so – and its play, its gamesmanship, travels the corridors of a mansion and the fantasy cobblestones of magical Paris. The titular protagonists pop pills and enter a house of fiction, where a phantom soap opera repeats its tragedy again and again, almost asking for someone, some playful spirit, to revolutionize its repetitive story. And so it happens. We might picture it like this: the goddesses of play, Celine and Julie, muck around the city, experiment with the possibilities of free-wheeling storytelling, and then, upon gaining entrance to the house of fiction, clash with its architecture of conventional, dusty melodrama, disrupting utterly its skeleton of stock characters and situations. But we might add an interesting, alternate possibility. Maybe these goddesses of play unlock the hidden passion, the potential, writhing in the darkness of a conventional, soap operatic edifice. All prisons are the drama of freedom wanting to get away.

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