CÉLINE & JULIE GO BOATING Criterion Review: Jacques Rivette’s Masterpiece Gets A New Restoration

It may seem hyperbolic, but to even attempt at delineating Jacques Rivette’s 1974 masterpiece Céline and Julie Go Boating is an inevitably futile excursion. Rivette’s sprawling epic is an explosive, dizzyingly delightful adventure that remains one of the most ambitious artistic undertakings of the 20th century, placing its two leads within the unrestrictive confines of a subliminal Parisian expanse and letting the narrative run wild. To probe Céline and Julie Go Boating’s core is to walk amongst a ravishing display of scenery that consistently engages its audience and acknowledges their spectatorship in a masterful game of both perception and subversion, luring them deeper into a continuously evolving world of grandeur.

For those unfamiliar with Céline and Julie Go Boating, it follows the adventures of the titular duo (played by Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier, respectively) as they partake in a series of intoxicating adventures throughout the city of Paris that traverse the bounds of reality as we know it. As part of Criterion’s upcoming March 2021 slate of releases, Céline and Julie Go Boating has been restored for an all-new Blu-Ray edition, which stands as a substantial upgrade from previously available versions and is packed with two discs’ worth of fresh content for viewers to enjoy. Inside the Blu-Ray packaging, a booklet can be found (as is traditional for Criterion releases), the design of which complements the release’s cover artwork in spectacular fashion. Furthermore, the booklet features an essay by critic Beatrice Loayza and a 1974 piece by Berto.

Video: 4.5/5

CÉLINE & JULIE GO BOATING Criterion Review: Jacques Rivette's Masterpiece Gets A New Restoration
source: Criterion

As noted in the edition’s “About the Transfer” section, Céline and Julie Go Boating is presented for this release in its original aspect ratio of 1:37:1 and in a new 2K digital restoration sourced from the film’s 16mm original camera negative, undertaken by French company Les Films du Losange. There’s no possible way of understating how jaw-droppingly beautiful the new transfer of Céline and Julie Go Boating truly is, and from the first frame to the very last, the restoration is irrefutably the best that Rivette’s tour de force has ever looked on home media (and will undoubtedly age just as marvelously as the film itself has). 

The picture quality on the disc is polished, precise, and serves as an assured assessment of cinematographer Jacques Renard’s timeless images. Each frame carries a meticulous balance of luminosity and stability, taking each scene to its absolute maximum potential for the Blu-Ray format. Additionally, the release boasts a phenomenally dynamic color palette, one that contributes to Rivette’s staggeringly introspective viewfinder into the lucid, surreal atmosphere that populates the entirety of Céline and Julie Go Boating’s intimidating runtime, enabling the film to fly by much more swiftly than the 193 minutes might let on. This is a film that makes no attempt to veer off the course provided by its broad sense of scope, ripe with languid ambiance, and every second of the restoration supports it with striking fluidity.

Audio: 4/5

CÉLINE & JULIE GO BOATING Criterion Review: Jacques Rivette's Masterpiece Gets A New Restoration
source: Criterion

Dually admirable in this edition is its singular audio track. Criterion’s release retains the film’s original monaural soundtrack, which, as noted in the “About the Transfer” section, was restored from its 35mm magnetic tracks (with auxiliary restoration assistance from Criterion themselves). It’s a firm audio track that holds its own against the film’s age and potential for imperfections, possessing extremely commendable precision, perhaps most notably during sequences in the film that takes place at a nightclub.

Dialogue is the driving force in Rivette’s mannered film but music, while scattered, is quite pertinent throughout as well, and it’s where the audio particularly shines the most. It’s worth noting just how spectacular the monaural audio adds to the atmosphere of such a playful feature, even though the track isn’t incredibly immersive by any means. 

Special Features: 5/5

CÉLINE & JULIE GO BOATING Criterion Review: Jacques Rivette's Masterpiece Gets A New Restoration
source: Criterion

In addition to its outstanding technical merits, Criterion’s release of Céline and Julie Go Boating comes brimming with a selection of special features that undeniably heighten the viewing experience. They are spread across two discs.

Disc One includes:

  • COMMENTARY: Recorded in 2017, this commentary features film scholar Adrian Martin.

Disc Two includes:

  • Jacques Rivette: Le Veilleur: Claire Denis made this portrait of Jacques Rivette, in which Rivette is interviewed on the streets of Paris by film critic Serge Daney, in two parts. In the first, Le jour, filmed during the day, Rivette discusses the history of the French New Wave. In the second, nighttime sequence, La nuit, Rivette discusses his own films. Both parts were originally broadcast on French television on February 28, 1994.
  • Pacôme Thiellement and Hélène Frappat: In this conversation, recorded remotely by the Criterion Collection in 2020, film scholars Pacôme Thiellement and Hélène Frappat discuss Céline and Julie Go Boating.
  • Buelle Ogier: In this interview, recorded remotely by the Criterion Collection in 2020, actor Bulle Ogier reflects on making Céline and Julie Go Boating.
  • Barbet Schroeder: Barbet Schroeder fulfilled two functions in Céline and Julie Go Boating: he both produced the film and acted in it, in the role of Olivier, one of the figures in the mysterious house. In this interview, recorded remotely by the Criterion Collection in 2020, Schroeder considers both aspects of his contribution.
  • Couleurs du Festival de Cannes (1974)
  • Pour le Cinéma (1974)
  • Jacques Rivette: Histoires de Titres (1974)
  • Jacques Rivette: In this 2004 interview, director Jacques Rivette revisits the making of Céline and Julie Go Boating.

Overall Score: 4.5/5

CÉLINE & JULIE GO BOATING Criterion Review: Jacques Rivette's Masterpiece Gets A New Restoration
source: Criterion

Céline and Julie Go Boating is a film that no words can frankly do justice. Jacques Rivette’s towering achievement is a true masterwork of its time, an artistically abstract and imaginative feat that reinvents itself at every turn and provides a vibrant stroke of expressionism that remains simply unparalleled to this day. Rivette’s bold, experimental art piece drops viewers into a world where anything is possible, buoyed by an immeasurably unique and endearing formality unlike anything ever seen before in the cinematic medium.

Criterion continues to hold their ground as a powerhouse in the physical media landscape, and their release of one of the French New Wave’s defining films from one of the movement’s most celebrated auteurs is meritorious in every regard. With a beautiful 2K restoration, a great monaural audio track, and a truly incredible selection of supplements, this is a release absolutely worthy of addition to any collection.

Céline and Julie Go Boating is set to be released on March 16, 2021, courtesy of Criterion. 

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