One of those really famous films that that virtually no one has seen, Jacques Rivette’s “Céline and Julie Go Boating,” opens in a park, with a few words on the screen: “Usually it began like this.” And then magician Céline (Juliet Berto) races through, dropping her personal effects, fascinating librarian Julie (Dominique Labourier), who spiritedly follows (picking up after her), much the way Alice followed the white rabbit down the hole.
And in no time, the two young women have become BFFs, finding themselves interchangeable in their “real” lives (substituting at a romantic rendezvous and an audition) and as the nanny/nurse for an invalid child, who lives in rambling house in which two women (Bulle Ogier and Marie-France Pisier) vie for the affections of the girl’s widowed father (Barbet Schroeder).
Each time Céline or Julie visits, she’s eventually ejected from the house, dazed and amnesiac. But back at Julie’s flat, sucking on a hard candy (and later dribking a magic recipe clover drink) magically starts the playback of the adventure.
Anticipating virtual reality gaming and “That Obscure Object of Desire” (Buñuel’s 1977 film in which two actors, Angela Molina and Carole Bouquet, switch in and out of the same role without any of the other cast members seeming to notice), “Céline and Julie” ends as it began (twinned, but fraternally), suggesting the possibility that the entire proceedings have been a game and now the two young heroines are back to level one.
Speaking of Rivette and two young heroines–I shot the great auteur with Jeanne Balibar and Hélène de Fougerolles, stars of “Va Savoir” two weeks after 9/11. My Tribeca neighborhood was dotted with check-points, a troop of cops stationed three blocks north of my loft, on Greenwich Street at Canal. Only residents’ cars were permitted to pass and pedestrians were carefully screened. Not knowing how spry Rivette, then 73, would be, I asked the sergeant to allow the town car to drive to my studio and was assured it would be ok. Rivette, totally spry, and his actors, arrived on foot.
Later I asked the sergeant what had happened to our agreement. He asked me, rhetorically, “Did you see those women? Gorgeous. All of us wanted to see them better and watch them walk.” Ah, New York’s finest.
“Céline and Julie Go Boating” opens today at Film Forum for a one-week run. (Motor, don’t sail, over to Film Forum and just go with the film–suck the lifesaver, drink the magic potion.)