Celine and Julie Go Boating

Michael Hayward

Jacques Rivette’s 1974 film Celine and Julie Go Boating (British Film Institute DVD) is set in a Paris that is half Wonderland, half real, a Paris in which events unfold according to the same dream-like logic that astonished Alice, and that entrances readers of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. A young woman—Julie—sits on a Paris park bench in the dog days of summer, absorbed in a book on magic, tracing runes in the dirt with her heel. Another woman—dishevelled, draped in a feather boa and trailing scarves—drops a pair of glasses as she rushes past, and Julie sets off in hot pursuit, like Alice after the white rabbit. And so the mystery begins. Odd events take place inside a long-abandoned house as two elegant women, dressed in fashions from another time, compete for the affections of a sombre widower whose young daughter—a pawn in the proceedings—appears to be in mortal danger. Somehow Celine (a magician) and Julie (a librarian) are entangled in the goings-on—we’re not quite sure how—and fragments of this story-within-a-story play out in a kind of loop. Celine and Julie Go Boating is a magical film (if somewhat slow to start), playful and yet thought-provoking too. In some sense it was the Paris of Celine and Julie that I’d hoped to find during my first trip to France: mysterious, with wonders tucked away on back streets and in half-deserted squares. This is the film’s first DVD appearance for English-language fans (optional subtitles, some extras). Available from—but note that it requires a Region 2 player.

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