Sunday, February 9, 2014

Film Review: The Story of Marie & Julien

"The Story of Marie & Julien" *** (out of ****)

Jacques Rivette's "The Story of Marie & Julien" (2003) is a story about love. Love as an abstract term and love between these two characters; Marie (Emmanuelle Beart) and Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz).

Every character in "The Story of Marie & Julien" is affected by love and emotions. All four principle characters are running their lives based on love. Love keeps them going. Gives them the ability to survive.

What is interesting however is director Rivette allows these emotions to gradually build. The viewer doesn't feel overwhelmed by it. A message is not being shoved down our throats. The movie takes its time telling this story. The film is two and a half hours long. It is by the end of the picture, we realize the movie impact. Or at least that was my case. I didn't realize how much I had liked this movie until I thought about it afterwards.

Rivette and the movie are a bit of a tease. At first the story seems to be about blackmail. Julien is demanding money from a woman only known as "Madame X" (Anne Brochet). She owns a silk business and it seems they are using fake material. Julien has papers to prove this point and will expose her.

Oddly enough, the longer the movie runs, we find out this isn't really what the movie is about. This isn't a thriller. No one's life seems to be in danger. Julien never fears Madame X will have him killed in order to get him out of the way. There are no mysterious phone calls at night, no death threat letters, no public scandal.

The movie intertwines this story with one about Julien meeting Marie. It seems they knew each other at one time. I met about a year ago, maybe more, one of them constantly injects. Since that time Julien has felt a loss in his life. He has thought about Marie. He needs her. She tells him the same.

Marie was dating a man, Simon, who died in a suicide car crash six months ago. Julien is a lonely man, who lives with his cat. He repairs broken clocks.

These are two lonely people who have managed to found one another again, at a time in their life when they most desperately need someone.

The movie starts to take a David Lynch turn, and becomes something of a brain teaser, involving a character, Adrienne (Bettina Kee) who may or may not be dead. She is Madame X's younger sister. And we start to question, what is going on here. Is any character really who we think they are?

But again, this material is not played as a super natural thriller. Ghosts are killing the living. No one is being haunted. Although you could argue some characters are suffering for sins from the past.

Watching this movie, I embarrassingly thought of someone I knew every time I saw Emmanuelle Beart on-screen. It is not that Beart resembles the woman in question, though, their figure is similar. And as this happened, I began to become more and more involved in the picture because I could understand Julien's feelings and what the movie, in my opinion, is about. How difficult it is to let go of someone you love. When you love someone and lose that person (it doesn't have to be because of death, a break-up will do) you carry that forever. I don't care how many years past. How many people you have dated since. Our memories don't fade away. We never completely forget the past. Not when the memories are meaningful.

Emmanuelle Beart normally plays very sensual characters. Watch her in Claude Chabrol's "L'Enfer" (1994) where she drives her husband mad, as he is convinced she is cheating on him. Watch her in "Nathalie" (2003) as a topless dancer, Andre Techine's masterpiece "Strayed" (2004) or "8 Women" (2002). And finally watch her beauty shine in "Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud" (1995). She is a wonderful actress. But here we see something different from Beart. Yes, she is beautiful, but we see a troubled soul here. There is more despair. More vulnerability here than I normally see from here. I was a pleasure to see a different side of her acting skills.

Jerzy Radziwilowicz is best known for his work with the greatest Polish film maker Andrzej Wajda and the films "Man of Marble" (1977) and its sequel "Man of Iron" (1981). I am not as familiar with Radziwilowicz's acting as I should be however we see similar qualities in his performances as we do Beart. Their loneliness is unmistakable. They both really convey that to the audiences in the most realistic terms. We accept them as these characters.

The director, Jacques Rivette was part of the French New Wave in the 1960s in America, along with Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer. Unfortunately Rivette never really caught on with American audiences in the same way. Perhaps best known for "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (1974), another surreal fable, he also made love stories like "Around A Small Mountain" (2009) and "The Duchess of Langeais" (2008). My favorite of his movies is "La Belle Noiseuse" (1991) a beautiful meditation on the creative process.

Many people question the ending of this movie. What is it all about? How does it fit in with the rest of the movie? The ending to me suggest the power of love. How's that for a Valentine's Day message?