Céline et Julie vont en bateau
Jacques Rivette, France, 1974
In the opening of his film Rivette ‘plays at cinema’ with his two actresses, telling a tale of a delayed meeting. He builds fragments of space in Paris which contribute to his imaginary, constructed version of Montmartre in which he has his two young actresses play out their scenes – following games, chase games, treasure hunts. The actresses themselves play their roles as if children, not actresses seriously engaged in the portrayal of a character. Rivette films more for the actresses themselves rather than the screenplay. In this scene without any dialogue Rivette also plays with filming them in the real world, with real life and real people passing through the shot, as if they were ‘hidden’, so that the people of the real world would never know that they were being filmed. In a first garden, just before this extract, we have seen children playing in a sand pit elsewhere, while Rivette made the most of a cat coming into shot to make two documentary shots on the life of Parisian street cats. When Celine is being followed by Julie she places a series of objects on her trail, like the bread crumbs from Hansel & Grettle.
The viewer asks themselves whether this was done on purpose, as if to play, or if it was really an accident. When Celine takes a break to sit on the second bench and applies some makeup, Julie puts on a pair of dark glasses as if to play at being a private detective. The second time that Celine turns around to face Julie, she hides behind the scarf that Celine dropped, like a child thinking that they are hiding or invisible when they shut their eyes.
The music that discretely accompanies the scene recalls the world of silent cinema, in the manner of Chaplin, Rivette wants us to hear that his film plays with the memory of the silent films of the past.
Everything in this film is play. It’s a fairy tale for grownups, where the adults carry themselves with the playful freedom of childhood.