A Pocket Full of Clemsonite

March 3, 2009

The Story of Marie and Julien – A Rivette-ing Romance Beyond Life and Death

If we are to make an inventory of the ghost-like characters in European films, what do we have? The first ones coming to mind are the angels in Wim Wender’s “Himmel uber Berlin”, remade with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan as “City of Angels”, the silent man in Kieslowski’s “Decalogue” and maybe the basketball playing dead friend of Lilja in Lukas Moodyson’s “Lilja 4Ever”. Nothing really helpful in making us understand what happens in a slowly-paced film like almost all Jacques Rivette’s.

So, what is going on here? The film is structured as a shift from Julien toward Marie. The first part, titled “Julien”, starts with their conversation during a dream. Surprise, they actually meet in person shortly after that. And while more than a year ago, the last time when they met, everyone was having another partner, this time it seems they both have the slot available for the other. It’s just that Marie appears to play a little “hard to get”. But Julien is patient: after all, his profession is vintage clock repairing, and this involves a lot of tedious and boring work. An advantage of his line of work might be that he is a perfectionist, and he also senses when something is out of tune.

That way, he soon senses that there’s something weird about Marie. On the screen, we can definitely see something that can be labeled as mental instability, but it could be more. So much more that it is too complicated for Julien to solve.

The gimmick used by the director to nudge Julien toward the solution is the blackmail plot. He had found some compromising materials about a woman, owner of a doll manufacturing business, and agrees to return them for a hefty sum. Since there are three such materials, there will be three transactions. The first one is undertaken by Julien, the next one by Marie. And something happens.

Marie sees someone that shouldn’t exist. It’s the deceased sister of the blackmailed woman. She even sends a letter which somehow arrives to Marie, and the two women communicate. That way, we understand that these two are alike, and this means for us that even Marie is dead. We can even track down the reason why she returned in life after staying in the limbo for a while. The other woman had some unsettled “affairs” with her sister, and apparently Marie was still unfulfilled by her life, and especially her love life, that she responded the dream call from Julien. And now, the impossible is happening: although her deadline is near, she doesn’t want to leave this realm again. The question remains: but what if she doesn’t heed the calls from above? What will happen? Nobody really knows the rules…

I am throwing a bone or two here. In order to better understand this “ghost” story, we must relate it to other important ghost stories. Here are two.

– Masaki Kobayashi’s “Kwaidan” is a film comprised of a series of ghost stories adapted from a book written by a Westerner, which westerner collected them in Japan. And the first one seems to have part of the key. In this story, a samurai hit by some sort of financial crisis leaves the city to work for a wealthy important figure. Although he loves his beautiful, loving and hard-working wife, he decides he will have higher chances to succeed if he were to marry another woman from his future master’s entourage, in the hopes that he will eventually able to restore his wealth and return to reinstate his old wife. Well, long story short, things don’t go as planned, so he starts thinking more and more about the loving wife he left behind. When he no longer stands his current nagging wife, he leaves his status and returns. He arrives at dusk at his old wife’s house, and during that evening they share memories and plan to restart their life together, full of hope. The samurai’s surprise is immense in the morning when he wakes up, because all he can see is a run-down building, with nothing usable, and after he gets out someone tells him that his wife had actually died some time ago.

Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu Monogatari
– This is a story of wartime, when a potter is decided to make it big by selling pots in the market to the soldiers. He earns big, but he also loses big, and he was that close to losing everything. His first encounter with a ghost happens in the market, when a local princess approaches him and asks him to bring her some of the pots she had just handpicked. Upon arrival, he is invited to stay the night, and it turns out that the virgin princess needs a husband. What’s a man to do than accept, in these conditions? Yes, but when he is running some errands in the market, everyone runs from him when they hear where he is staying. Lastly, a priest tells him that his new wife is a ghost and this relationship is forbidden, so he must act toward his deliverance from it. Back “home”, he learns that the princess was actually killed in a family feud and she returned to earth to find true love which she missed in her life, but she had now found in his person. Nevertheless, he leaves (let’s skip his departure’s details).
– In the meantime, his wife is killed by some hungry rogue soldiers wanting her food. When he returns home, upon entering the door he sees the devastated house with nobody inside. He gets out through the back door, returns to the front door and reenters. So (this is a masterfully handled scene) he meets inside his wife who was already worried for him, and his child was sleeping next to her. These facts will be negated early in the morning, when the neighbors arrive and tell him his wife was dead, and obviously she had already vanished.

Now it’s time to go back to the story of Marie and Julien and see what we have. We have indeed a story of love and a story of madness which has pushed Marie to suicide before. She doesn’t want to leave, but somehow she agrees that she doesn’t have any choice. She even shows Julien that she is left unharmed by the sharp knife, the blood doesn’t spill. She warns him that after her departure he will completely forget her. She even leaves shortly after the knife scene, when only Julien bleeds.
It’s actually quite an amazing scene; we are seeing it from both worlds. We see Julien seconds after Marie has vanished; acting as if he had really forgotten Marie, during the phone conversation he clearly exhibits this. We also have the view from Marie’s “window”, looking at Julien and his dog, she is also looking at her dry wound, and suddenly, the blood starts dripping.
Yes, somehow she’s back here, she needs emergency care, and let’s forget about technical ramifications as canceling her death certificate and so on. We are talking here about saving a soul or two, about saving a life, or about a life returning.

Indeed, seeing this film is not about “watching paint dry”, as a Gene Hackman character once said about Eric Rohmer’s film (incidentally, this film was produced by Rohmer’s “Les film du Losange”). Actually it’s about watching red paint dripping again. And it’s magic. Luminous, and having a clockwork precision. Jacques Rivette is a painter (as in La belle Noiseuse), a filmmaker (as in Julie and Celine Go Boating), a theatrical script writer and director (as in Va savoir), but also a clock master, as in Story of Marie and Julien. Gone are the minutes like “Gone in 60 seconds”, such films that take maybe 2 ½ or 3 hours have something to tell.

But if you’re in a hurry, it’s very likely that you’re going to miss it…

September 3, 2008

O parere americana despre filmele lui Eric Rohmer

Filed under: cinema — Tags: , , — floreign @ 1:33 am

In filmul Night Moves, personajul jucat de Gene Hackman are urmatorul comentariu: ” I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kind of like watching paint dry. “

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