Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)

“There is a homosexual pancreas in the closet.”

‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’, directed by Jacques Rivette in 1974, is a labyrinthine, experimental farce set in Paris. It tells the story of two women who meet by accident in the city, become inseparable friends and then become involved in a weird, time-traveling murder mystery ghost story. It’s difficult to summarise, partly due to the vertiginously free-wheeling nature of the script and partly due to the experimental, innovate way the movie is directed. It seems to draw on three main sources: Lewis Carroll, Marcel Proust and Henry James. Carroll for the teasing nature of the plot, Proust for the way the two women access the ‘story-within-the-story’ mystery and James for the mystery itself. It also reminded me of Věra Chytilová’s ‘Daisies’ with its anarchic depiction of the friendship between two bohemian women, but with thematic touches of Alain Resnais’  ‘Last Year at Marienbad’. What Rivette does is expand the central idea of ‘Daisies’ but makes a more palatable, more fun movie than ‘Marienbad’ by intercutting between the farcical scenes of what is tempting to describe as ‘banter’ between the women, and the chilly gothic mystery of the Henry James-style haunted house. It’s a long film, but it’s also episodic and lively so the length does not drag, but rather immerses the viewer in the strange world of Celine and Julie. The semi-improvised performances are also so likeable that, unlike in ‘Daisies’ you are not alienated from the characters. It’s dizzyingly complex, rich in subtext, colourful, pacey and fun. It’s got the chaotic heart of ‘Daisies’ and the chilly head of ‘Marienbad’ – a combination that makes for an engrossing and an endurable movie.

Would I recommend it? Yes – in a brave and insane triple bill with ‘Daisies’ and ‘Marienbad’ – go on – I dare you…

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