Celine and Julie Go Boating [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (18th November 2017).
The Film

"Celine and Julie Go Boating" ("Céline et Julie vont en bateau") (1974)

Celine (played by Juliet Berto) and Julie (played by Dominique Labourier) are two women who strike an unlikely bond due to their love of magic, the mysterious, and a strange connection to a house with a supernatural occurrence. The two share their experiences of what transpired in the house - what seems to be ghostly apparitions that recount a tale of murder, backstabbing, and doublecrossing. As Celine is a magician and Julie is a librarian interested in the occult, the two are not frightened but fascinated by the mysterious happenings. But when they figure out a way for themselves to enter into the continuously looping supernatural melodrama, they find their antics may change the inevitable outcome...

"Celine and Julie Go Boating" was writer/director Jacques Rivette's most successful film financially in France, though it was not on the level of blockbusters or even his new wave counterparts. With a length of 3 hours and 15 minutes, lengthy periods of no dialogue, jump cuts to flashbacks and/or flashforwards, and very little in terms of conclusive explanation, it is a wonder that the film had initial success in cinemas. But "Celine and Julie Go Boating" struck with audiences. There was a sense of wonder, magic literally and figuratively, and unique originality. Rivette's previous project was the legendary "Out 1", the 760 minute 12-part epic that extensively used improvisation techniques in rehearsals and workshops to create the characters and story. As the improvisations increased, so did the narrative's turns and eventual outcome when compared to the original draft. "Celine and Julie Go Boating" also shows an improvisational technique to the construction, as the actresses were given much time to flesh out their characters prior to filming and the director giving them freedom for experimentation.

The opening "chase" lasts for around ten minutes with no dialogue or introduction, and the rest of the film has a free spirited flow that at times seems conventional, but around the one hour mark takes serious turns to the avant garde. Unexplained shots and frames start to seep into the film, which at first seems like editing errors or disc problems. But these are anything but mistakes, as the jump cuts and sudden frame drops are giving a sense of misdirection and confusion intentionally. When the scenes of the mysterious people within the haunted house first occur, there is no explanation. Is it a dream? Are they ghosts? Memories of the house? Memories of Celine and/or Julie? Or as some have pointed out, are these just the imaginations of cats? There is no explanation and with a multitude of theories floating about, every time one is to watch "Celine and Julie Go Boating" the experience may change, just as the characters try to change the outcomes of the "Groundhog Day"-like people who repeat their days again and again.

Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier's performances are naturalistic in their hippie-like lives where reality is not where they stand. From their fashion to their personalities, they are certainly twenty-somethings influenced by the late 60s/early 70s counterculture, while the people in the mysterious house, played by Barbet Schroeder, Bulle Ogier, and Marie-France Pisier are trapped in a French adaptation of a 1940s or 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama, inspired by stories by American author Henry James. Rivette, as well as some the actors, and writer Eduardo de Gregorio are all given writing credits in the film which does seem overcrowded but as the improvisation sessions grew, the additional contributions from everyone did as well. The overcrowding of credits do not necessarily mean rewrites or additional tweaks but in this case a collaboration effort.

Visually speaking the film certainly showcases Paris streets and the atmosphere of the time, without flashy techniques or inventive camerawork. It is very still for the most part letting the actors take the frame and not the cinematography being the center. The editing on the other hand is something that changes over the course of the film, as the first hour or so is fairly conventional while towards the end there are sudden jumps, unexplained shots, and cuts to black frames. "Celine and Julie Go Boating" is a trip into a magical world in the sense of "Alice in Wonderland" - especially with the magical candy, but with an avant garde beat. Films such as "Desperately Seeking Susan" and "Mulholland Drive" were heavily inspired by the film and the status of the film as well as Rivette's continues to grow. It is not for everyone and certainly will cause confusion if not watched with attention. But even with one's full attention span, it is not a simple ride. It will make you say "I need to see that again..." while it lingers in your mind.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray which can only play back on region B or region free Blu-ray players

Video

The BFI presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The original 16mm negative film elements were scanned and restored in 2K by Les Films du Losange and Eclaire Laboratories with the support of the CNC. The transfer was supervised by famed cinematographer Irina Lubtchansky, and it is overall a dark transfer. Colors are night bright and vibrant but more on the cold side. blacks are very dark and in some scenes portions of the frame are pitch black. There are some issues when vibrant colors come in, for example the striking red and blue clothing that frequently appear have issues focusing in on full detail. On the positive side the film looks very clean with no issues of specs, dust, debris, or scratches on the frame, with the exception of occasional visible gate hairs, left in intentionally. Film grain is still left intact, framing looks good, and overall a fair transfer except it may look too dark for some eyes.

The film is uncut with a runtime of 193:33.

Audio

French LPCM 2.0 stereo
The original French audio track is presented in lossless 2.0. Although it is labeled as "stereo" on the menus and packaging the film is basically a mono track with extremely limited stereo separation, highly unnoticeable unless listened to with headphones. The audio track was remastered from the 35mm magnetic elements and the sound is fairly good. It does have its limitations due to the locations and original equipment it was shot on, the dialogue is always easy to understand with no issues of hisses, pops, or dropouts.

There are optional English subtitles for the main feature in a white font. They are well timed, easy to read, and have no issues with grammar or spelling.

Extras

Audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
Newly recorded for this Blu-ray release, the talkative and informative Adrian Martin deconstructs the film in this three and a quarter hour commentary track. He talks about the literary references, film references, the construction of the film, the lives and careers of the cast and crew, and even compares the final act to a role playing video game. He never slows down and always has interesting things to say over the full track.
in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

“Introduction by Jonathan Romney on Rivette and Celine and Julie Go Boating” featurette (19:17)
In this 2006 featurette, critic Jonathan Romeny gives a condensed talk with a biography of Rivette, the reasons why he was not part the new wave limelight, what separates him from other directors, how “Desperately Seeking Susan” was inspired by it, and the complex script. Very informative for the fairly short runtime. The featurette was originally featured on the 2006 BFI DVD release of the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Toute la Memoire du Monde" 1956 short film by Alan Resnais (21:54)
Also titled “All the World’s Memory”, this documentary by Alan Resnais chronicles the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The process of acquiring and cataloging the vast amount of printed material on a daily basis through lengthy tracking shots and voiceover narration is hypnotic, just as Resnais' "Night and Fog" was one year prior. The film has been restored in 2K in 2014 at the Digimage Classics Laboratory from the original 35mm negative. The picture and sound quality is excellent overall with very little damage in the picture.
in 1080p, AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

"The Haunted Curiosity Shop" 1901 short film by R. W. Paul (1:55)
This very early short film by R.W. Paul is literally a magical short, featuring at the time groundbreaking superimposition to showcase disappearing and reappearing trickery. This short was scanned in 2K from a 35mm duplicate negative held at the BFI National Archive. The film as old as it is looks fair for its age, not going through a restoration process so there are damage around the frame through its runtime.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0

Booklet
Included is a 40 page booklet. First is a text interview with Dominique Labourier and Juliet Berto conducted by Gautam Dasgupta originally published in Film magazine in March 1975, which the actresses talk about the making of the film. Next is the essay "Work and Play in the House of Fiction" by Jonathan Rosenbaum, originally published in Sight & Sound magazine in autumn 1974. He discusses a lot about "Out 1" and how it connects to the construction of "Celine and Julie Go Boating" and the film in detail, plus an interview with Jacques Rivette conducted by Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky, also originally published in the autumn 1974 issue of Sight & Sound is also provided. A review of the film from the August 1976 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin is also reprinted, and last is the essay "Desperately Seeking Celine and Julie" written by "Desperately Seeking Susan" director Susan Seidelman. Lastly there are credits for the film, bonus features credits and notes, transfer information, acknowledgements, and photos.

Overall

"Celine and Julie Go Boating" is a bizarre trip into the minds of two women and a tribute to cinema, theater, and literature. It's not the easiest film to put your mind around and even with multiple views it will not have a complete answer as the spectator becomes part of the construct. The BFI Blu-ray release presents the film with a 4K remastered transfer with restored picture and audio with a wealth of extras including an excellent commentary track. Highly recommended.

The Film: A- Video: B+ Audio: A- Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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