Directors' Fortnight: An Alt-Cannes

Rivette's Céline and Julie Go Boating opens a tribute to that other French festival

The Directors' Fortnight festival originated as a kind of enfant de resistance, born as it was in the supremely French spirit of protest in 1969. Cannes had been a bust the previous year, succumbing as much to the wrath of filmmakers like Godard and Truffaut (who protested the 1968 firing of Cinémathèque director Henri Langlois) as to the student and labor strikes destabilizing the rest of France. So Directors' Fortnight emerged as a sort of Gallic Slamdance: an independent alternative to Cannes. Since then, Directors' Fortnight, a noncompetitive festival, has run concurrently with the clusterfuck on the Croisette, and over the past 40 years has provided a debut forum for films by directors Nagisa Oshima, Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, and Spike Lee—to name a few.

Presenting four decades' worth of alt-programming highlights, BAMcinématek kicks off "Directors' Fortnight at 40" with a fabulously appropriate, week-long run of Céline and Julie Go Boating, Jacques Rivette's 1974 hoof up and down cinematic and psychosomatic memory lane. Acquitting itself beautifully via a crisp, newly struck print courtesy of the British Film Institute, Céline and Julie remains one of the most accessibly enigmatic jewels of the French New Wave—three-plus hours of delightfully maddening intricacy that reek not of musty masterwork, but rather of effortless, exhilarating play.

Rivette muse Juliet Berto, who died in 1990 at age 43, is the titular flibbertigibbet Céline. She is youth, 24 frames per second; watching Berto reflexively command the attention (and hot pursuit) of Julie (Dominique Labourier) in the extended sequence that opens the film, it seems outrageous that cancer could even contemplate, much less befall, such a vibrant creature. The tentative stalking that ensues between Céline the alpha waif and Julie, a rosso librarian with a weakness for all things occult, culminates in Céline's fib about a beating and subsequent installment in Julie's flat. The women mind-meld over dolls and Bloody Marys, but when Julie attempts to investigate Céline's assault, both are gradually engulfed by a fifth-dimension odyssey of men, murder, and copious lozenge ingestion.

Julie (Dominique Labourier) and  Céline (Juliet Berto) of Céline and Julie
Photofest/BAM
Julie (Dominique Labourier) and Céline (Juliet Berto) of Céline and Julie

Rivette's narrative is as antic and resistant to boundaries as his heroines; he weaves cinematic and self-reference with sublime—and ultimately substantiated—assurance and wit. The girls begin to revel in their urban safari, hunting big psychic game in one of storytelling's most reliable constructs: the haunted house. Eventually they conspire, in the grand New Wave tradition, to insert themselves in history as it unfolds, and change the game. (One of the parallel-universe players, actress Bulle Ogier, will participate in a Q&A after the June 27 screening of another series selection in which she stars, 1971's La Salamandre.)

Other films to be screened include Morvern Callar, Lynne Ramsay's dark, smudgy portrait of a woman (Samantha Morton) contemplating love, death, and appropriation; The Trip, Roger Corman's typically daffy 1967 ode to the many-edged powers of LSD; and a no-bollocks double bill of Radio On, starring Sting as a DJ in late-'70s London, and Control, Anton Corbijn's recent look at the British-music scene of that same period via the life of doomed Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis.

 
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