(Rivette, 1974)

I saw David Lynch’s Inland Empire, on release, with a good friend and fellow fan one rainy night at the Ritzy in Brixton, South London. We had dodged the reviews and the hype and those ugly screen shots of Laura Dern’s grimaced face and made it through all 180 chaotic, muddled minutes… only to be totally devastated.

We hated it. What had we missed? After all, Lynch had already attacked the darker realms of Tinsel town once before in the dark wonderland of Mullholland Drive. Why was he retreading his own path? I admired some of the ideas, I respected the free thinking way Lynch conceived and wrote the film day by day, on set, allowing actors and to be involved, I thought some of the moments in it were very powerful and that the dirty DV shooting worked to highlight the “its only skin deep” beauty of film.

We both made tenuous grasps at why we should have loved it. All of the elements should have fit. Why then did it seem to me like a monumental failure? Why did it feel like Mullholland Drive remade in a few weeks by film students with a lot of good weed?

Perhaps it was because we had both recently seen this Jacques Rivette 1974 head wrecker of a film.

All of the elements of a Lynch’s movie reside here. Rabbit holes, women in mystery, the themes of audience and spectator the upset chronology and and the see-saw switch overs that he has often used to dazzling effect. It was such a shame that, for me, after Inland Empire all of these things seemed, stolen and recycled and it’s for this very reason that I both adore and resent the fantastic Céline and Julie go Boating.

The film begins Alice-in-wonderland-like with Céline (the beautiful Juliet Berto) reading a book of magic spells in a Parisian park, stopping only to notice another young woman, Julie (Dominique Labourier), dropping her belongings behind her as she goes. Céline follows her, at first to return her things but she is soon involved in a strange chase through the streets of Montmartre.

Enter the rabbit hole friends and watch your step, it gets weird from here on in!

Rivette also wrote his film in a loose outline form and famously allowed it’s stars to form the scenes which move between slapstick, magic, mystery and downright bafflement. But what a great ride! Labourier and Berto, both excellent comedians, must have had immense fun in discovering the paths they wanted to take through Rivette’s maze, and it shows, especially in the film’s often hilarious one-on-one moments in Céline’s apartment, which also highlight a playful sexual tension between the two.

In the film’s “see-saw” moment Rivette attempts to make you as a viewer question the very reason you enjoy cinema. We are taken, with the girls, to a mysterious house where time is lost and, in entering, they individually find themselves frozen inside only to be spat out, with no memory later in the day. They return numerous times, each time unraveling the mystery little by little and, in cutting a long story short (the film runs a whopping 193min), they both find themselves watching a mystery unfold as spectators and we find ourselves watching them become the audience of different story all together.

Eat your heart out Charlie Kaufman.

But that is only touching the surface. It’s unfortunate given the depth and ingenuity of Céline and Julie Go Boating that even Rivette’s earliest films, although praised by François Truffaut as “the reason the new wave began”, seem to be far less appreciated than those of his fellow forward-thinking, free-flowing, jump-cutting countrymen. I urge you to change that with this criminally under seen, magically confounding, beautiful and brilliant film and in turn hope you are surprised at just how deep this little rabbit hole goes.

…and if you’re reading this David Lynch, don’t worry I still love you.