Sunday, August 30, 2009

271) The Story of Marie and Julien (2003)

271) The Story of Marie and Julien (2003) Dir: Jacques Rivette Date Released (DVD): July 2005 Date Seen: August 28, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

I think I only really understood what put me off about the impenetrable, disjointed pacing of The Story of Marie and Julien after watching an hour of Jacques Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating. I stopped watching Celine and Julie with a little more than two hours to go because it was all about the necessity of play and hence unconcerned with engaging me with any kind of narrative. Its characters don't have traditional story arcs because would defeat the purpose of their child-like need to constantly reinvent themselves through various games that they make up as they go. 

While The Story of and Marie and Julien can be retrospectively considered to be more deliberate in its mounting tension, it does not feel much more purposeful. Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) is not a traditional protagonist: his passionate fling with Julie is propelled forward not by his proclamations of love for her but by the fact that each successive scene he's in overthrows our understanding of what happened in the last one. In other words, Julien's story progresses without a sense of narrative continuity so that its herky-jerky tempo mimics his uneasy--to say the least--relationship with Marie (Emanuelle Beart). 

This revelation makes the film more thoughtful in retrospect but no less grating while watching it. Because its rhythm defines its characters, Marie and Julien infrequently stalls because of its stop-and-go structure. The way Marie thwarts Julien's need to have order in everything he does, as represented by his obsessive certainty that he can fix the various clocks he works on throughout the film, is ingrained in the story itself. That abruptness makes certain recurring images, like Marie's mysterious blue room and their bouts of role-playing sex, captivating because of the urgency with which they're presented but also fundamentally frustrating.


  1. Looking to Rivette for traditional character and narrative arcs seems like a good way to completely misunderstand what his films are after -- you just can't approach Rivette on those terms. His films are about improvisation, about play, in cinema, the theater, and in life itself. I find his films incredibly emotionally affecting and magical. The Story of Marie and Julien is a patient, mysterious build-up towards that charming Mona Lisa smile on Emmanuelle Beart's face as she delivers her final lines. It's gorgeous. And Celine and Julie is a grand metaphor for the cinema itself, for the pleasures that audiences can find in watching a narrative unfold -- and, in the finale, a wish for the ability to actually enter the film and affect its outcome. I realize that Rivette's films require some patience, and perhaps an adjustment to a very different kind of film, but in my opinion he is very much worth whatever extra effort he requires to appreciate the unique, magical worlds he creates.

  2. Well, having not seen anything by him before this save for THE DUCHESS OF LONGAIS, I learned from this to appreciate his storytelling for those reasons, as I said above.

    Again, I get why people enjoy him but I'm not as in love with him yet for those reasons. Intrigued, yes, but not enamored.

  3. Just so we're clear: 3.25/5 for me is like a B-.

  4. Fair enough, Simon, I guess I interpreted your turning off Celine and Julie after an hour as part of a much more decisively negative stance. "Intrigued" is a good start with Rivette. I often find that while watching his films I have no idea what's going on, and only in retrospect do the pieces come together somewhat, and sometimes not even then -- films like Pont du Nord and Duelle are deliberately enigmatic and mysterious even beyond their final images. These films wash over me, bathing me in images and ideas and strange little moments of character insight and beauty, rather than leading me through a linear plot.

    I should also add, The Story of Marie and Julien was the first Rivette film I saw, so it still holds a special place for me as my introduction into his cinema. I was utterly charmed and baffled in roughly equal measures when I first saw it. In retrospect, it's one of his most straightforward and accessible films, believe it or not.

  5. I think I appreciated THE DUCHESS OF LONGAIS so much b/c, and I realize this now only thanks to hindsight, that it also had that sense of playful mystery but tempered to a dense plot with involving characters that I could sink my teeth into. I will give CELINE AND JULIE another shot tomorrow just after waking up so I won't have time to form resistance to it.

  6. Don't Touch the Axe (the great original title, so much better than The Duchess...) is a fine film, too, no doubt about, but something of an anomaly in Rivette's career, since he's self-consciously approaching both the period film and the literary adaptation as film genres. In that respect, it's most clearly related to The Nun (his second film, an uncharacteristically straightforward drama with Anna Karina in one of her best performances) and Wuthering Heights (a moody, low-key and somewhat minor 80s film). These films are kind of an alternate strain within his filmography, as opposed to the meandering, playful theatrical/acting examinations that dominate his work.

  7. That's what I've heard; I may just prefer that strain. :!

    I too prefer the original title and will one up you by quoting it in French: NE TOUCHEZ PAS LE HACHE. Ah. It sends tingles down my Francophile spine.