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Histoire de Marie et Julien
cast: Emmanuelle Béart, Jerzy Radzwilowicz, Anne Brochet, Bettina Kee, and Olivier Cruveller

director: Jacques Rivette

144 minutes (15) 2003
widescreen ratio 16:9
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Do I have to review the film? Could I not simply take up with the disc's accompanying on-camera interview with Jacques Rivette? It runs 40 minutes and is conducted by a, name unchecked, female interviewer, the cantankerous and fidgety elderly director unwilling to meet her eye, preferring the view from the window or some pinpoint space in nowhere. It is at once awkward, the septuagenarian argumentative, the interviewer a fan, a 'student', fumbling and bumbling but persistent. The fascinating result is that both win and lose, neither is perfect yet both are resilient and approvable.

The first of the interviews refutations is that Histoire de Marie et Julien is a ghost story, that the dead revived in the story are, in case, not ghosts but revenants. Ghosts are ephemeral, whilst the revenants are solid (though clearly he is shy of calling them corporeal, they don't bleed after all), are 'alive' and more competent conversationally. More carnal too, suggests the interviewer, shot down immediately by Monsieur Rivette. The mystery questioner eventually wins out on this point, as the 'ghost' word creeps in despite her attempts to anchor the word 'revenant' into her head until even the director slips up and refers to them as ghosts once or twice.

She draws him on his opinion on fantasy film, a possible influence lying in The Sixth Sense, and sadly, he likes that film. Though dismissive of most fantasy film as catastrophic and stupid, he believes the Shyamalan debut "logical, intelligent and making sense," in which statement he likens, without pronouncement, the sought end result in his own fantasy work. He denies any influence by the American film though. Is he certain? The two films are languid, overlong and short on thrills. Both are carefully orchestrated in an unconvincing world where the occupants behave largely unbelievably. That is with the exception of Anne Brochet's Madame X, the blackmail victim, the only leading character that can be legitimately described as 'alive', swift and swish, an attractive and elegant woman, assuredly and wantonly real. The other actors acquit themselves well, as well as anyone can be expected to do so in a pretentious ghost story - sorry, pretentious revenant story. It is a film that goes almost an hour before revealing itself supernatural, though not without its mysteries before then.

In the on-camera Emmanuelle Béart interview the actress describes how, when casting, Rivette approaches the likely player directly making one feel like they have never been felt more wanted. Unfortunately, therein lies the trap. They find themselves in a role, a situation, a story and a film that doesn't match up to the seduction. She finds herself in a role and in a film that offers levels of listlessness, like the slow to-and-fro shifting platforms of a 'cascade' slot machine constructed never to pay out. Histoire de Marie et Julien moves like a supermarket conveyer belt. The similes are all bad. Not one of the parallels that the director might wrongly misconstrue stimulating. Excitement is prohibited. The co-star committed to this fit of artificial doldrums is Jerzy Radziwilowicz, though he is no stranger to turgid spook dramas, having starred in Krysztof Kieslowski's No End, there playing the sentient ghost shadowing the wife left behind. Rivette will surely declare no influence there either.

The interviews are more interesting than the film, yet, oddly, I doubt they would add little to the film if they were to be viewed first, though there is no harm in trying it. The film was first begun, shot and aborted in 1975, with Leslie Caron and Albert Finney in the leading roles, as part of Rivette's series of films based on "Scenes de la vie parallelle," the "world we think we live in," as Rivette puts it, in which "we obey laws that are beyond us," as the character Marie declares. Rivette is an educated film and culture brat, who cannot help but mention reference points at the same time that he denies any precise influence. The tail ('Moustache' quips the interviewer) of Poe, the love of Hitchcock that is a cinematic French by-law, Gaelic love spells in the legend of Tristan and Iseault, and "These mysteries are beyond us; let's pretend we have invented them;" the interview is riddled with the truth. Rivette understands the genre full well, but Histoire de Marie et Julien is played out like a genre discovered and misunderstood, misappropriated, the maker not knowing how best to use it, or compulsively kicking against it to the worst effect. Movies with interacting ghosts outside the comedy spectre film have been a pet hate of mine. Stephen King is a pain in the arse for it, and Kubrick's The Shining could have been perfect without its 'corporeal ghosts' (as I do call them) serving drinks and discoursing.

The director also admits that the film had to spell out the ending in advance, a concession to something positive, for the benefit of the moneymen under pitch otherwise the film would have had a budget of "three cents". It is an honesty that saves him. His revenge on the investors would be the two hours plus that precede it. On that, the film could be shorn of half of its 144-minute running time and be half as pummelling on the viewer. If you insist on seeing it, I really cannot suggest the tools that might help you through it.
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