Exactly twelve years after his brilliant La Belle Noiseuse (1991) one of the true masters in contemporary French cinema Jacques Rivette returns with a project that proves to be as complex as it is demanding from its viewers. Intended as part of a series of four mythological films Histoire de Marie et Julien dates all the way back to 1970 when it was abandoned by his creator in favor of more lucrative, for the time being, projects. Now brought back to light with a significantly different structure the film relies on such stars as the Rivette favorite Emmanulle Beart (L'Enfer), Anne Brochet (Confidences trop intimes a.k.a Intimate Strangers), Nicole Garcia (La Petite Lili), and Jerzy Radziwilowicz (Secret Defense).
Histoire de Marie et Julien focuses on the relationship between Marie (Emmanuelle Beart) and Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), a clock maker working at home. Having been separated for well over a year both Marie and Julien live their lives unsuspecting that fate has a plan for them. After an unusual dream Julien encounters Marie and the flame of an old affair is quickly rekindled. At first Marie seems receptive to Julien's initiations however when he attempts to get even closer to her she begins to avoid their meetings without an explanation. Strangely enough when Julien suggests that Marie moves to his house she enthusiastically accepts. And once again instead of being more intimate with each other the two lovers grow increasingly distant. There is a secret that lies deep inside Marie's soul which unfortunately Julien is unable to reach. He is saddened, intrigued, and certainly puzzled. In the meantime, Julien has to recollect himself and stay focused as Madame X, a wealthy lady he is blackmailing, has recognized Marrie. But what could Marie and Madam X have in common when they hardly even know each other?
Histoire de Marie et Julien is certainly an acquired taste, a film that demands as much from its viewers as it is willing to give back after the end credits roll. With duration of nearly three hours Jacques Rivette's latest film requires utmost concentration and patience that many may not be willing to spare. For those of you however that allow the famous maestro to lead you Histoire et Marie et Julien will reveal a complex, multi-layered story, which certainly leaves more than one questions for thoughtful analysis.
Just as it was the case with his earlier La belle Noiseuese (1991) and Va Savoir (2001) Jacques Rivette has created a film that takes its viewers on a long and often confusing journey of character exploration. Even when the audience is introduced to Marie and Julien, their mundane routine, their pains and struggles, the film feels as a mosaic where certain pieces require to be aligned perfectly. There are long moments of silence where Rivette lets his camera do the talk placing the actors in a near state of intellectual meditation. In fact, these are the moments when one could certainly draw a parallel between Rivette's slow, arguably pseudo-intellectual, narrative and Marcel L'Herbier's classic fantasy works-it becomes increasingly difficult for the viewer to separate reality from allusion.
What is not difficult to discern however is the pure perfectionism that oozes from the intimate scenes between Marie and Julien. Rivette seems to have reached the very soul of Emanuelle Beart and she is willingly revealing all that her character has to offer, her body, her soul, her physical self. It feels as if Rivette is once again molding her flesh, as he did in La Belle Noiusese, though this time in order to recreate a state of harmony between two lovers where words can hardly substitute what a film camera can show.
Histoire de Marie and Julien is certainly a flawed film as there are too many intellectual overtones one could find difficult to endure. There are moments when it feels as if the story almost comes to a standstill implying that the mystery we have been offered for analysis is just a gimmick added to spice up a purely elitist feature. On the other hand the open for interpretation story could be an enormously rewarding experience especially if you are willing to go a step beyond what the typical for the genre features offer.
How Does the Disc Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's this R1 version delivered by Koch Lorber appears similar to the R2 UK version released by Artificial Eye. I believe that Koch Lorber have attempted to properly convert the master they have been provided with (I assume a PAL master) and for the most part the DVD looks pretty good. I did notice some minor "combing" (look for the scene where Julien is picking up his mail and notice the minor combing-at his fingers) but overall this appears to be a rather good effort by Koch Lorber if you are willing to tolerate the "combing" I mentioned above. Where this R1 DVD falls behind the R2 UK disc (for the record the French double disc is not subbed) is the degree of contrast. Blown out on a big screen and viewed with a digital projector the R1 release lacks visibly next to the Artificial Eye version, I also see some compression artifacts. In addition, some minor edge enhancement is also noticeable especially during daylight scenes. Last but not least when I commented on the French 2 DVD set in the past I pointed out that it would have been nice if the main feature was separated from the extras-one disc for the film and one disc for the extras. With a running time of nearly three hours anything that is being crammed on the same disc with the main feature is bound to affect the video quality. (* Please note that all photos in this article are "media-shots" and are not directly taken from the DVD).
How Does the Disc Sound?
A French Dolby Digital track has been provided for the main feature with optional English subtitles. Nothing impressive really...an overall good presentation which at least in my opinion could have been upgraded to a nice 5.1 mix. Why not?
The following extras have been provided for the R1 release (once again similar to the R2 Artificial Eye disc):
Interview with Emmanuelle Beart-
Interview with Jacques Rivette-
Original French theatrical trailer-
While not on par with Jacques Rivette's mesmerizing La Belle Noiseuse this relatively recent film is equally intriguing, captivating, and ultimately a bit too demanding from its viewers. It is a rewarding viewing experience however if you are willing to tolerate the film's main weakness-its perhaps too elitist and often pseudo-intellectual narrative. RECOMMENDED.