Wednesday, February 13, 2008


--Senses of Cinema has included my list in its world poll. I feel very glad. Thank very much to the editor of Senses of Cinema. You can now read my list here:

--Aaron, who is a huge fan of Jacques Rivette, asked me to translate Filmsick’s review on CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING from Thai to English. So here it is. If you find any mistakes in my poor English, please tell me about it so that I can correct it.

You can read Filmsick’s original writing in Thai here:

The following is my translation of Filmsick’s review:

It happens in a summer afternoon. Julie, a librarian with big glasses and curly red hair, is sitting in a garden. She is reading a big book about magic and using the heels of her shoes to draw a magical sign on the sand. Suddenly Celine, a small black-haired woman with strange haircut, loose-fitting shirt and gigantic bag, is walking past Julie. Celine's eye-glasses are dropping out of her bag.

Julie sees it and tries to call Celine. Julie shouts and runs after Celine, but Celine never looks back. She even drops many more things along the way. Julie tries to pick them up. At first Julie tries to help Celine, but later it seems as if they are playing a game by chasing each other around the town in the afternoon sunlight. Julie wears the eye-glasses and scarf of Celine, and follows Celine into a small shop in which Celine performs some magical tricks. Their chase ends at a coffee shop.

After that, they move into the same room. Each of them takes turn living the other one's life. They discover an extremely strange haunted house where each of them alternately enters to try to find the truth about the murder of a little girl. Everything happens in a cheerful mood.

"It is as if the air is full of magic," says someone who watches CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING. This is a film made in 1974 by Jacques Rivette, one of the French New Wave filmmakers who collectively wrote a new page for the history of cinema. They began by working as critics for the magazine Cahiers du Cinema and formed a group of friends, including Francois Truffaut who made some tender films (JULES AND JIM, THE 400 BLOWS), Jean-Luc Godard who tirelessly experiments with films (BREATHLESS, ALPHAVILLE), Claude Chabrol who is the master of films about marital problems and skeletons in the closet (LE BOUCHER, LES BICHES), and Eric Rohmer who is the master of films about the witty and sensitive relationships between men and women (A WINTER'S TALE, PAULINE AT THE BEACH). Rivette may be the least well-known among them, but if we compare them by their skills and techniques, Rivette may be one step ahead of his friends.

In CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, which can be considered Rivette's most successful film, Rivette takes us into a strange magical world. It is a world where everything is possible, a world where a haunted house is another side of an amusement park, a world where alphabets and magic stay the closest to each other, a world where dreams and reality merge into each other, a world where an image tastes as sweet as candy, a world which we can simply call it a movie.

This is a film which speaks about films. It isn't only a film which refers to other films, not only a film which contains another film, but it is also a film which speaks about films and filmgoers with love and mockery.


In the first twenty minutes of the film, we watch Celine and Julie play with each other. If we regard it as the chase between a librarian and an illusionist, it can be considered as the phenomenon of the invention of cinema, because cinema is the combination between a story (a librarian) and an illusion of moving images (an illusionist). Sometimes Celine and Julie switch into each other's role. Sometimes Celine, the magician, goes to a library and draws pictures in books. When Celine is among her friends, she tries to tell a story (this is the only scene in the film which is improvised by the actors), but her story about an American friend is ridiculously full of plot holes. Sometimes Julie, the librarian, goes to perform some magic tricks instead of Celine during the time Celine visits the haunted house. But instead of giving a magic performance, Julie tells such a weird story on the stage that the shop owner cannot stand her any more. Each of the women has her own roles. When each of them switch into the other's role, the result would look ridiculous (though lovely). And when each of them alternately visits the haunted house, their memories are full of fragments. Everything can be clearly understood only when both of them enter the haunted house at the same time.

In one scene we see both of them transform into skating ninjas to steal a book from a library, because they want to find a formula to make magical drinking water! This is the meeting between books and magic, stories and illusive images, which lead to a new thing—the magical drinking water which can take both of them into the world of the haunted house, or the world of films.

In one scene when Celine is in the haunted house, Julie climbs the stair on the other side, and that stair becomes an important thing in the final part of the film. It is as if the support that stories and images give to each other is the only thing that can make films go farther than before.

But in another way, Celine and Julie may be the same person since the beginning. In the first scene, Julie is reading a magic book, and suddenly Celine, who is a magician, appears in front of her. In another scene, when Julie visits the haunted house, Celine disguises as Julie to go on a date with Julie's fiance and he seems to notice no difference between them. (Celine even makes him go naked.) Sometimes Julie recites some magic words when she stays home, as if she becomes Celine. Each of them alternately plays the same part of the nurse in the haunted house.


After visiting the haunted house, both Celine and Julie seem to be exhausted, and their mouths always contain some sweet candy. This seems like an experience of watching a movie in the afternoon. Some good movies draw our life energy until we become exhausted. We walk out of a theatre, with some tastes linger in our memories so that we can cherish them for a long time. After Celine and Julie come home, they sit beside each other and face the camera, and they swallow the candy, and then they are lost inside the haunted house again.

In this aspect, Celine and Julie are the audience. The audience has seen a film which has sucked out their life energy. And when they come home, they try to remember the film. When Celine and Julie swallow the candy, images start to appear. We see images inside the haunted house juxtaposing with images of Celine and Julie laughing, feeling sleepy, becoming excited, and screaming. This is not different from watching images of a film shown on a screen juxtaposing with images of the audience in the theatre. Before this scene, Celine and Julie are the raw materials used in making a movie, but in this scene, Celine and Julie become the audience who watch a whodunit thriller.


This is the most precise definition of film. Film is a haunted house. The experience of watching a film is like going into a haunted house. We walk into a dark room. We are haunted by unknown lights and shadows, which forcefully stir our feelings and emotions—our suffering, our happiness, our love, our hatred, our bravery, and more importantly—our fear.

The experience inside the haunted house takes both of them back into the 1940's, into a big mansion in which a widow resides. He has a sick daughter, a nurse to take care of her (they alternately play the role of the nurse.), and there are two other women in the house. Images in their memories come in fragments. First the images appear very briefly, very incomprehensible. Then we begin to see a scene or an event. Every time a scene appears before our eyes, Celine and Julie (and all of us) will start guessing the outcome of an event in different ways, until our guesses are betrayed by the next images.

At this time Celine and Julie become characters in a film. They become a nurse who does more than the role of a supporting character. In the final part when both of them enter into the haunted house at the same time, they even take a nurse's uniform with them so that they can both take turn performing a nurse without interruptions.

Some critics say that the events inside the haunted house take us back to the period of Henry James' novels with a story about melodramatic love inside a luxurious mansion. Even the names Celine and Julie are familiar names used for the characters of Henry James.

At the moment when both of them have to start performing a nurse, we always hear a knocking sound. Some critics say that the knocking sound is the sound used to call a performer to appear on the stage. At this moment Celine and Julie have fully become actresses.

But they do more than that. They start changing many things in the haunted house, but the story still moves forward. At this point Rivette makes us understand how ridiculous and static a story can be. (We can see in the later part that the people in the house, except Celine and Julie, have very pale faces and move like zombies.) Celine and Julie's attempts to change the story cannot really change the fixed plot of the story. Even when Celine and Julie play tango music, the characters still dance to waltz music. Celine and Julie try further by changing the clothes of these characters and dancing by themselves. Finally Celine and Julie transform the story by an aggressive means—kidnapping a character!

Finally Celine and Julie become filmmakers, and they make unusual films. Starting by representing the audience, they later become the representation of Jacques Rivette, a filmmaker who chooses not to let the story dominate the lives of people in his films. A story is only an element under the control of the filmmaker, who can twist it in any which way he desires. When a story moves forward, it doesn't mean that the significant thing is only the progress of the story, because there are other stories outside the main story. Sometimes some stories merge into each other. Sometimes some stories diverge from each other.

In one scene Julie discovers her own box which contains an old photo of that haunted house. She used to live in that neighborhood when she was a child. When she goes there, she meets her nanny. If we consider the fact that the person who takes Julie back to that house is Celine, we may think that all of this is just a daydream of Miss Julie—an intense dream full of magic, madness, and energy. We should also notice that Celine and Julie wear blue and red clothes in the early part of the film, but they stop wearing these colors when the characters in the haunted house wear these colors. Celine and Julie's colors are transferred to these characters.


In the final scene of this film, Celine and Julie and her character go boating along a quiet river in the afternoon sunlight. They meet the boat of the characters in the haunted house. Maybe all of this is an experience of going boating in a quiet afternoon. We feel the fresh air, but we also have a deep fear, because we are journeying into an unknown area, creating stories out of the things we meet, and destroying stories within the same river. The film repeats itself but changes the origin as if stories can be told and re-told forever. And the cat (which we see at the beginning and at the end of the film) watches us and daydreams about us.

The crossing between fiction and reality has blurred the line between them and destroyed the audience's senses until we cannot understand it within one dimension. (It is very interesting that during this period there are some other films which twist and play with the dimensions of storytelling, such as INDIA SONG (1975, Marguerite Duras) and EDEN AND AFTER (1970, Alain Robbe-Grillet)) This helps turning film watching into an exciting experience, like an experience of going into a haunted house and leaving it with a souvenir in the form of a sweet candy in a late afternoon sunlight.

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