Histoire de Marie et Julien (2003)

12 06 2008

I’ve been laboring over this for quite some time actually, but I finally mustered the strength to provide my ever evolving thoughts on what could be my favorite Rivette film. If it is not his very best, than it is at least the closet he’s been to making a film remotely close to my own ideal, i.e one revolving around relationships. All the films I’ve seen by him up to this point flirt with such a notion, but none of them seem to truly embody it quite like this one does. Of course, there’s still plenty of unnecessary surrealistic fantasy elements but at least such stuff is done in a manner closer to the cinema of Tsai Ming-Liang, as opposed to David Lynch.

A lonely clock engineer, Julien, dreams of a past acquaintance, Marie. Almost immediately after he wakes up, he sees Marie on the street and they plan a date for the following day. She stands him up, but eventually invites him over for dinner later. She speaks little of her past with the exception of mentioning the death of her ex-boyfriend. This doesn’t ruin the mood one bit: Marie and Julien fall in love almost immediately and they move in together. In the mean time, Julien is in the process of blackmailing a woman by the name of Madame X. Marie eventually becomes his accomplice in this whole scheme, but she seems to have a prior history with Madame X, who now seems concerned for Julien’s future. In addition to this, Marie begins to act more and more passive around Julien and now devotes most of her time to furnishing an abandoned room in Julien’s house.

One reason why this particularly troubled me for so long is because of the fact that, so far, it is probably the most difficult of Rivette’s films to actually sit through. Even La Belle Noiseuse, in spite of its ridiculous four hour running time, seems to pass by at a more rapid rate. This is not a weakness of Marie et Julien, though, but rather one of its strengths. Perhaps, his other films are a bit more fun, in a sense. They certainly aren’t easy films by any stretch of the imagination but I suppose more physical actions are made. This film is different, though, as it seems to provide more purpose to the “dull” moments of a relationship. In a way, this could be seen as the French equivalent to The Wayward Cloud but with tracking shots replacing Tsai’s lingering static shots. These films share a similar premise: despite some subversions, one could say that they both fall under the “lost souls find each other” genre. Once again, though, Rivette begins to fall back into his fantasy and/or surreal trapping, which creates the film’s limited and minor problems.

Needless to say, I am getting a bit tired of this whole French ghost stories shtick. The people most dependent on this whole sub-movement are Rivette and Jean-Paul Civeyrac. Both of whom are far above this type of irritating bullshit. Why people who can beautifully capture all the ups and downs of human interaction would try such boring David Lynch type of stuff is beyond me. I guess this film could be seen as some sort of an update on Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, which would probably be the greatest argument for Rivette’s surrealistic lapses. In all honesty, though, the surrealism in this film is only a minor intrusion. While it does provide some of the more over-the-top sequences, it also reinforces the overall “mystery” tone, which works in the context of the principle relationship.

Some people have described Histoire de Marie et Julien as a cerebral piece of filmmaking, but it is anything but. Perhaps there is some symbolism and metaphorical pieces within the film, but that doesn’t take away from its very storytelling strengths. With this film, Rivette perfectly captures the wonders and disappointments of human relationships, and does so in a painterly fashion. Each frame is, as one should expect from Rivette, saturated with an overwhelming amount of beauty. While the complications of real life is the subject being depicted, it becomes even more complicated with the film’s own problems. In other words, it is flawed but in a way that is just like the people within it. One of Rivette’s most befuddling films, but also his deepest and most emotionally complex.




8 responses

12 06 2008

I wish L’amour fou was available, because it actually seems like it could be the ideal Rivette for you.

“A life experience as much as a film experience” (Jonathan Rosenbaum), L’Amour Fou, an astonishing dissection of the breakdown of a relationship set against the rehearsing of a play, is one of Rivette’s most important and most essential works. (It also has a title that, for cinephiles, encapsulates much of the romanticism of French cinema). “ L’Amour Fou follows a stage director and actress, husband and wife, who are rehearsing Racine ‘s play Andromaque. The protagonists are also the subjects of a television documentary, and Rivette’s film switches between 35 and 16mm to reflect the separate projects. As part of Rivette’s vigorous dedication to realism, he hired a real crew to shoot the documentary, and had the actors genuinely rehearse the play … The fragility of human relationships — one of Rivette’s favourite topics — is central to the film, as it the fragile relationship between fact and fiction, reality and storytelling. These concerns form the core of Rivette’s later work” (Saul Austerlitz, Senses of Cinema). “A major work of the decade … filled with all the magic and sense of mystery which characterizes Rivette’s finest work” (Roy Armes, French Cinema). “Rivette’s claim to the status of a key innovator in contemporary cinema begins with this film … Even the pretentious title is justified by the shattering, improvised ending” (Tony Rayns, Time Out ). ”

I was going to go to it when it came here, but my dad said no because it was on a Friday night and over four hours long. I should have tried to persuade him more!

I wonder what you’ll think of Duelle, Noroit, and Celine and Julie. Those are my favourites so far and they’re all just crazy but great cinema all the same.

13 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

Oh well, I consider Marie and Julien as close to flawless as I can possibly imagine. And I would not want to give up a single one of Rivette’s ghost story films…..

13 06 2008
Jake Savage

Oh well? You say that as though I didn’t completely love the film, which I did!

13 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

Well — you say a lot of highly negative-sounding things….

“plenty of unnecessary surrealistic fantasy elements”
“irritating bullshit”
“boring David Lynch type of stuff”
“surrealistic lapses”

My point is that I see these elements that irritate you as affirmatively good things, some of the elements that make Rivette unique (and watching his films enjoyable). ;~}

13 06 2008
Jake Savage

I meant most of this as being characteristic of the rest of Rivette’s work, as well as Civeyrac’s. I really do love this film – I gave it a 10/10 on IMDB. Does it really sound as though I didn’t like it?

14 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

Not saying you didn’t like it. Just saying that some of the things you liked it “despite”, I liked it “because”. ;~}

14 06 2008
Jake Savage

Ah, okeydokey. It certainly would not be the first time we disagreed on a film that we both ultimately liked.

26 06 2008
Ed Howard

Interesting review. This is quite possibly my favorite Rivette as well, although I have to say that it’s thrown me for a loop that someone could so evidently adore this film and yet also dislike the more surrealistic and magical elements of Rivette’s filmmaking. These are the elements that, for me, solidify his greatness, and provide some of the best moments in his films. I wonder what you’d think of the enigmatic Dulle, which is all about magic even if it never quite explains its supernatural elements.

Anyway, Marie et Julien ends with what is quite possibly one of my favorite final shots ever. It reminds me of a less vulgar version of the ending to Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, not coincidentally another of my favorite endings. The woman gets the last word, suggesting future possibilities, and then the film abruptly cuts off. Brilliant.

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