Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Histoire de Marie et Julien

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIEN

4/10

aka The Story of Marie and Julien : France 2003 : Jacques RIVETTE : 145 mins

Francois Truffaut once wrote that the French New Wave began “thanks to Rivette” but the auteur behind the legendary Celine and Julie Go Boating (1975) seems to have gone into a severe decline since 1997’s challenging, fascinating Secret Defense (1997). Praising Showgirls as one of the best films of the nineties wasn’t an encouraging sign, while the writer-director’s tale of theatrical folk, Va Savoir (2001) was depressingly tepid.

Histoire de Marie et Julien is even worse, a maddeningly pretentious metaphysical romance involving a pudgy, sixtyish clocksmith (Jerzy Radziwilowicz, from Secret Defense) and a much younger woman (Emmanuelle Beart) who harbours a dark secret. Padded out with infuriatingly arch dialogue (You don’t know me. / Its you who doesn’t know yourself / I don’t want to know myself), the film takes forever to tell a plot which is simultaneously wisp-thin and pointlessly convoluted. Surrounding the horologist hero with ticking time-pieces makes us painfully conscious of how our own lives are ebbing away, second by second, as Rivette gropes for profundity.

If the movie wasn’t so relentlessly po-faced one might take some of the lines – being a clocksmith is “a matter of patience”, the workings of a clock look like “an instrument of torture” – as subtly dark, self-referential humour. But the plot’s increasingly tragic revelations compel us to take the film totally seriously – not easy to do during interludes as daffy as the priceless episode in which Beart unexpectedly climbs a chair and starts babbling in tongues.

It’s clear that something is badly amiss when the sole source of on-screen energy and wit is mute and four-legged: a black cat pointedly named Nevermore in tribute to Edgar Allan Poe. Histoire de Marie et Julien may remind Poe devotees of a story entitled How to Write a Blackwood Article, a deconstruction of the ‘tall tale’ format then popular in literary magazines – Rivette’s version might be called How to Make a Pretentious Arthouse Movie: long silences, meaningful looks, overextended scenes, portentous chat (“nothing – that’s what I like”) and, as we’re in France, lots of lively but wholly implausible sex between a grizzled old bloke and a Botox-lipped sex-bomb.

27th September, 2004
[seen 22nd September 2003 : Principe, San Sebastian : press show – San Sebastian Film Festival]

click here for original review from October 2003

by Neil Young