Jacques Rivette on Céline and Julie

An excerpt from an interview with Jacques Rivette about the making of Céline and Julie Go Boating, from a 1974 issue of Film Comment:

Jonathan Rosenbaum: How was Céline and Julie Go Boating prepared? What was the initial motive?

Jacques Rivette: Simply the desire to make a film. To get out of the dumps that we all felt we were in, make a film for as little money as possible, and, we hoped, amuse people. Because the adventure of Out didn’t turn out very well, from the point of view of public reception—there was no reception. It was almost impossible to show the film. Meanwhile, there had been another project which we couldn’t do because it was too expensive, which Juliet Berto was also involved in. When we realized about a year ago that we couldn’t bring this project to fruition, I spoke to Juliet one evening and we decided to do something else. Something which would be on the contrary very cheap, as easy to make as possible, and fun to do. The first idea was to bring together Juliet and Dominique, who were already friends: I’d often seen them together.

Rosenbaum: There seems to be a Hollywood aspect to Céline and Julie that’s quite different from your earlier films.

Rivette: Yes—but Hollywood twenty years ago, certainly not today. We thought of it in reference to certain things, such as everything concerning the house. Contrary to what some critics at Cannes thought, our ambitions weren’t along the lines of parody, but rather a pastiche of an old-fashioned sort of cinema. For instance, the use of wide angles and deep focus. I thought during the shooting that the film was a little bit like an RKO movie of the ’50s, but in color—those films that more or less successfully imitated Wyler’s. There was a fad between 1945 and 1950 to use mise en scène in depth, particularly at RKO—the Gregg Toland influence. In the film’s details, we thought of several American movies. At the end, for example, the idea was to have a slapstick finish. In fact we were thinking a bit of Hawks, although we did it quite differently from the way Hawks would have. One of Hawks’ favorite remarks is that when he’s found a subject, he first of all tries to make a comedy out of it; then, if he doesn’t succeed, it’s a serious film. So we decided that the end would be completely open; it could be very dramatic or whatever we wanted. I wanted to have a slapstick finale because it seemed more amusing.

Rosenbaum: Were cartoons an influence?

Rivette: Oh, yes. Definitely. But it was important as an idea only at the beginning. If we’d had more time and money we would have pursued it more systematically. Although it might not have changed anything. And the actresses had this in mind all the time, especially Juliet. Everything she does is always very visual, physical. Her movements are very staccato—the way she walks, the way she eats the candy.

Gilbert Adair: And Feuillade?

Rivette: Not at all. I don’t find the film very Feuillade-like. The scene with the girls in black tights was just a gag, lasting only 30 seconds.

Adair: But the whole idea of fantasy in the open air…

Rivette: Yes, but that’s because we were broke. It wasn’t at all a theoretical position. When we were looking for the house, we wanted it to be very homey; in fact, it’s a completely normal house, but we filmed it in such a way that it seems a little unnatural. And we were lucky to find the cats there. We didn’t bring them. All the cats are in the film simply because they were there.

Rosenbaum: When was script writing introduced into the project?

Rivette: There never really was a written script. What is a scenario, after all? If it’s a project for a film, or, on the contrary, something written and then shot, I don’t do that any longer—not since L’Amour Fou—and I have no desire to do it again.

We began by elimination: we didn’t want to make a serious film; we didn’t want to make a film about the theater because we’d done that too often; we didn’t want to make a film about current events or politics. But we did have the desire from the very beginning to do something close to comedy, and even frankly commedia dell’arte. And the first thing we did after two hours of conversation was to look for the characters’ names. And we stopped there that evening. So finding the names Céline and Julie was our starting point…

The first stage consisted of conversations with Juliet and Dominique, when quite quickly the two girls organized their own characters. Then came the idea of their meeting, how the two connected. But then there was a stage—after the first half hour of the film as it now stands—where we didn’t have a clear idea, where there were all kinds of possibilities. We hesitated for about two weeks with Eduardo [de Gregorio], who had joined us by that time. We already felt that a second story was necessary within the first, for which I wanted Bulle [Ogier] and Marie-France [Pisier], in order to have another feminine pair, both in opposition and in relation to the first. But we didn’t know at all either what the second story would be or the mechanism between the two—that’s what took the longest to organize. It was by approximation, groping. It was Eduardo who suggested the Henry James novel [The Other House] which we started from, which he hadn’t read himself but had heard about. In fact, none of us has read it because we couldn’t find it. Eduardo read only the dramatization, which is apparently very boring; and I don’t read English well enough.

We didn’t want this to be a realistic investigation—we sought a less realistic principle. We thought of lots of things, like Bioy Casares—Morel’s Invention. The day when we were really happy, when I felt we’d found the trigger, was the day we had the idea of the candy. Because that was what permitted us to bring everything together.

Adair: In Out there are explicit references to “The Hunting of the Snark,” and the whole of Céline and Julie is saturated with the spirit of Lewis Carroll. What role did Alice in Wonderland play in the conception of the latter film?

Rivette: We thought of it in the first scene. We wanted Juliet’s dash in front of Dominique on the park bench to remind one a bit of the White Rabbit. The idea was that Dominique would chase her and they would both fall, not into the rabbit hole, but into fiction.

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