12 October 2004 | gtzam
Relentlessly challenging cerebral ghost story
Jacques Rivette's "Histoire de Marie et Julien" is bound to confound or disappoint today's audience, but not the followers of this director's work. The film does not conform to the dominant norms of current film-making that require a solid plot with familiar or identifiable characters whose actions are socially or psychologically motivated in order to have a semblance of verisimilitude. Its characters seem to inhabit more the filmic universe than a real one and a correspondence amongst those two is not straightforward to establish. The situations explored here (blackmail, amour fou, guilt, resurrection etc) and the characters actions are elliptically presented, but they, through a meticulous and extremely precise reconstruction of the filmic reality, uncannily make perfect sense within the narrative, provided that the viewer does not try to interpret the action using concepts alien to the filmic reality.
The film requires from its audience constant participation to grasp its narrative subtleties and the patent exploration of abstract concepts such as time (cf. the last line of the film is "give me some time"; Julien is a clock meddler), the fusion of dream and reality (the first chance meeting is initially dreamt but occurs immediately afterwards; Marie's dreams command her actions when awake), guilt and redemption (the subplot involving the blackmailed woman and their sister) etc. The cyclic structure of the film with four chapter denoting different, albeit subtle, shifts in narrative perspective invite the viewer to adjust his approach according to the tonal modulations of the unfolding story. The reflexive nature of the filmic story becomes, thus, a vehicle for self-examination on behalf of the viewer of held preconceptions and ideas related to the issues unravelled within the film.
A uniquely rewarding movie for those willing to be engaged in its narrative discourse. The work of a master.