STORY OF MARIE AND JULIEN, THE (Histoire de Marie et Julien)

(director/writer: Jacques Rivette; screenwriters: Pascal Bonitzer/Christine Laurent; cinematographer: William Lubtchansky; editor: Nicole Lubtchansky; cast: Emmanuelle Beart (Marie), Jerzy Radziwilowicz (Julien), Anne Brochet (Madame X), Bettina Kee (Adrienne), Olivier Cruveiller (Publisher), Mathias Jung (Concierge), Nicole Garcia (Friend); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Martine Marignac; Koch Lorber; 2003-France in French with English subtitles)

“An intellectually dazzling but slow-moving, dreary and somewhat pretentious chamberwork.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran master French New Wave director Jacques Rivette (“Va Savoir”) creates an intellectually dazzling but slow-moving, dreary and somewhat pretentious chamber-work that is demanding and otherworldly. It creates such a distance that it failed to emotionally connect with me. I admired it more for its craftsmanship than I loved it for its narrative.

Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) is a brooding middle-aged man who repairs antique clocks in his home and is blackmailing a woman known only as Madame X (Anne Brochet). She’s a merchant dealing in Chinese silks, whom it is later learned might have killed her weaker sister. Julien has in his possession a false certificate, a photo of Madame X with her deceased sister Adrienne (Bettina Kee) and a Chinese doll, and she is reluctantly willing to pay him to keep her business secret. Before Julien meets the vic, he accidentally bumps into an old lover he was just dreaming about while sitting on a park bench. Marie (Emmanuelle Beart) is the mystery lady who worked at one time for a publisher. Julien met the beauty a year ago at a party, but could not connect with her because they both had partners. Marie was with the handsome Simon and Julien was married. His wife dumped him to move back to Montauban and Simon was killed in an auto accident, leaving them both ready to try again.

When Marie moves into Julien’s spacious comfortable house one can’t be quite sure what is actually happening, as it’s Rivette’s want to film around parallel realities and imagery that’s dredged up from the subconscious that remains puzzling. The film serves as a long meditation on obsessive love, otherworld representations, chance being a main factor in determining one’s happiness, suicide as an option to life and dreams as reality. It’s sublime, hypnotic, well-acted but lacking in warmth and seemingly blurry-eyed over its dream-logic versus reality battle. The film never emerged for me as more than a metaphysical exercise, one where even the romance with the hot Beart seemed to be more intellectual than romantic.

REVIEWED ON 10/11/2006 GRADE: B-