A film in the classic French surrealist style, Céline and Julie Go Boating is a long, strange and magical film about two friends who find a strange way to enter a strange, cyclical dream-like world.
It’s a bit of a rusty feeling coming back to this around nine months later since the last entry, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, but I feel like I’ve seen many memorable films in that duration, as well as from the many years proceeding that I thought it would be a good time to reflect and post more. Hell, why not?
For me the most intimidating part is the writing; trying to recap my thoughts on something I’ve seen so I’ve decided to write whatever happens to come to mind at the time, no matter how basic the overview is.
Céline et Julie Vont En Bateau (here listed by the English title, Céline and Julie Go Boating) is a film by French director Jacques Rivette, who is commonly grouped with the whole French New Wave — a blanket term used for such directors as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut who tried new things with cinema in starting as early as the late 1950s.
I’ve never seen films by Rivette before but I was aware of work done by actors in his film, including Barbet Schroeder (director of Maîtresse) and Bulle Ogier, who had done films for Schroeder as well as other European directors such as Fassbinder.
Anyway, with this film, Céline and Julie Go Boating, I held off watching it for a number of months as the running time is 193 minutes. I wanted to be in the right mood to watch it. I had no idea what to expect from a film that runs that long. When I did get around to it the pacing worked quite well.
The film follows two women who cross paths in a park when one woman drops her scarf. From there there’s a bit of a chase as Julie tries to return the scarf to Céline. This chance meeting brings the two women together under strange circumstances that could be categorised as “magical realism”. As the film progresses the women keep visiting a strange house where they don’t remember what happened during their time there. Only when they start sucking on these mysterious candies do they get transported to their time spent at the house, which is a “groundhog day” style routine of a set of actions and conversations that result in a young girl being murdered.
As Julie and Céline keep returning to this “routine” by ingesting the candies, they start to have fun with the repeating actions of this dream state, and eventually start changing the course of events, breaking down the somewhat normal feeling of these events into something more bizarre and surreal.
It’s a bit hard to explain it and it’d be a shame to give too much away. The long running time of the film however feels natural as you feel like you’re hanging out with the two protagonists as they go about their increasingly bizarre adventures and start morphing together in terms of personality traits.
And yes, there’s a scene where they do “go boating” — it’s short but an integral part of the film.
If you’re in the UK this film is available on player.bfi.org.uk (with a monthly subscription). BFI also has an interesting analysis of how this film influenced the 80’s classic Desperately Seeking Susan starring Madonna and you can view this analysis in a video clip below.