CAT OF THE DAY 075: CÉLINE ET JULIE VONT EN BATEAU – PHANTOM LADIES OVER PARIS (aka CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING) (1974)
Jacques Rivette‘s meandering, 193 minute shaggy-dog story is a post-New Wave variation on Alice in Wonderland set in Montmartre, and the nearest thing the French auteur ever had to an audience-pleasing hit. Dominique Labourier plays a freckled librarian who makes friends with a wacky magician (Juliet Berto). The two of them swallow magic bonbons (insert your own drug reference here) and are repeatedly transported into an old dark house haunted by ghosts who seem to be reenacting a murder mystery. Can our heroines infiltrate the ghostly narrative and save the little girl?
It’s simultaneously a yarn about female friendship, a ghost story, homage to silent serials, a meditation on storytelling and memory, and an adaptation of a story by Henry James. Anyone hooked on zippy Hollywood pacing will expire of boredom within the first five minutes, but if you’re patient enough to go with the flow, your reward will be one of the most enchanting chick-flicks ever made. My dad took me to see it at the NFT in 1975 and I was so completely smitten I started filling notebooks with recipes for elaborate spells and rituals, many of them involving Crème de Menthe and Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes.
There are also several cats in it. More importantly, the film ends with a close-up of a cat, leading film critic Jonathan Romney to muse, “This might be the only film in which the story is dreamed by a passing cat.”
There’s also a very cool cat in the same director’s Histoire de Marie et Julien. But I’m saving that for another CAT OF THE DAY.
“Mener quelqu’un en bateau” (to take someone boating) is the French equivalent of the English idiom “to lead someone up the garden path” or “to take someone for a ride”.