“The Story of Marie and Julien”: Un homme, une fantôme, un chat

A ghostly Emmanuelle Beart in Marie and Julien.

My education in the films of Jacques Rivette continues.  As I understand it Rivette had been trying to make The Story of Marie and Julien since the 1960s, at that point to star Albert Finney and Leslie Caron, but the film never materialized until 2003.  It was to be one of his last completed films.  It shares a similar formal quality with Rivette’s Secret Defense (1998), a revenge thriller that has the detached feel of a mathematical proof.  Marie and Julien is enlivened by the fact that it’s both a love story and a ghost story.  Marie and Julien’s love affair is in the Romantic/Gothic tradition of Pelléas and Melisande, Vertigo, and Washington Irving’s “Adventure of the German Student,” with an ending that owes something to fairy tales like Pinocchio and The Velveteen Rabbit: the undead Marie (Emmanuelle Beart), moved to tears by the suffering of her lover Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), magically regains her mortality.  It’s too reserved and sane to be top-tier Rivette, but its restraint is appropriate to the somberness of the plot, and it has an erotic edge that one normally doesn’t encounter in his films—with the possible exception of La Belle Noiseuse.  

The Story of Marie and Julien: Nevermore (Gaspard) in the clock.

The other thing Marie and Julien has going for it is a fantastic animal performance by a tuxedo cat named Gaspard (he looks a little like Disney’s Figaro), who steals nearly every scene in which he appears as Julien’s pet cat Nevermore (!), often by clambering on top and inside of the elaborate clocks that Julien works to repair.  While they don’t play as significant a role in his films as they do in those of, say, Chris Marker, cats tend to be associated with magic throughout Rivette’s work.  Joe Dallesandro dandles a kitten in Merry Go Round, a stray cat acts as a witness to the antics of Celine and Julie Go Boating (and is given the final word of that film, as it were, by appearing in the last shot), and in Marie and Julien Nevermore’s acrobatics lead Marie to discover a cache of secret documents.  In the pantheon of cats of the nouvelle vague, Gaspard is no Zgougou or Guillaume-en-Egypte (how could he be?), but he’s remarkable all the same.

Merry Go Round: Joe Dallesandro with kitten.

Celine and Julie Go Boating: The cat watches.

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