Jacques Rivette’s tribute to Frank Tashlin, Hollywood musicals, and Alfred Hitchcock, Céline and Julie Go Boating is a plethora of comic raucousness, a surreal, uproarious three-hour farce that celebrates exuberance and the human spirit. Taking inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Céline and Julie’s two eponymous leads, the former a free-spirited cabaret dancer, the latter a librarian with a fascination with tarot cards and incantation, embark on a series of mischievous, identity-swapping escapades across Paris. In the second half, the two intervene in the affairs of a secluded aristocratic family in what is either a horrific domestic dispute or a satire of Victorian costume dramas. Through his mixture of magic rituals with conspiratorial plotting, Rivette composes a feminist fantasy of sorts, where the female characters live and act in defiance of the preconceptions of the men in their lives (as well as against the conventions of traditional commercial filmmaking). Admittedly, as in the case of many Tashlin pictures, Céline and Julie’s sensory excessiveness is often too overbearing for its own sake, yet the film is never uninteresting, and I suspect this will become less cryptic and more rewarding upon future viewings.
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