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Histoire de Marie et Julien (2003)

Storia di Marie e Julien, The Story of Marie and Julien

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 145 minutes

UK Certificate: 15


In the 1970s, French auteur Jacques Rivette conceived 'Scènes de la Vie Parallèle', a series of four films about parallel worlds. Two of them, 'Duelle' and 'Noroît', came out in 1976, but the third, entitled 'Marie et Julien' and starring Leslie Caron and Albert Finney, was abandoned three days into shooting after Rivette suffered a nervous breakdown. Some quarter of a century later, Rivette decided to bring this material back from the dead, armed only with fragments from the beginning of the original's script. This time round he expanded its title to the more reflexive 'Histoire de Marie et Julien' – for it is not just a story about loved ones returning from the past, but a film which itself re-emerges from its own interrupted history.

Had they both not already been attached to other partners, clocksmith Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) would have begun a relationship with Marie (Emmanuelle Béart) when he met her a year ago. He has not seen her since, and has been living alone (with his cat Nevermore) for a long time – but immediately after having a dream about Marie, he runs into her on the street. Marie keeps disappearing and reappearing, making Julien wonder if she is somehow in league with the elegant Madame X (Anne Brochet), whom he is in the process of blackmailing for selling fake silks and possibly murdering her own sister. Marie moves in with Julien and they become passionate lovers, but out of bed her conduct remains enigmatic and she spends much of her time obsessively redecorating the attic – until at last it becomes clear that to make a new beginning with Marie, Julien must first forget everything that he knows about her.

'Histoire de Marie et Julien' is a bizarre love story with an intriguing twist which it would be irresponsible to give away – but it is also a meditation on the mysteries and paradoxes of time (indeed the film's very last line ends with the word “time”). In different ways, both Julien and Marie are out of sync with the world and with each other – time has in effect stood still for Julien ever since his partner left him, while Marie barely seems even to know what time it is, greeting Julien with a “good day” when in fact, as he points out, it is evening. Throughout the film Julien is seen at work on an old Wagner clock that “limps a little” – just as Marie limps as she tries to fit into the shoes of Julien's previous lover – and both characters are hobbled in the present by a past that keeps coming back to haunt them.

Unfortunately, though, this is a film which takes a very long time to impart very little, making the viewer feel entrapped in the same endless limbo as the main characters. For all its fine performances and elegant sets, the arthouse minimalism of 'Histoire de Marie et Jean' would better have been reflected in a far briefer duration. As it is, the film resembles one of Julien's broken antique timepieces, pretty to look at but unworkably slow.

It's Got: A returned lover, blackmail, dreams and fantasies, sex and erotic stories, slow clocks, and a cat named Nevermore.

It Needs: To have its duration reduced by at least an hour.

DVD Extras Enhanced for widescreen TVs; scene selection; choice of Dolby digital 2.0/Dolby digital 5.1; French with (optional) English subtitles; interview with director/co-writer Jacques Rivette (40min, French with English subtitles) covering (obliquely, at least) the films original seventies conception, its mythology, its use of shifting viewpoints, and its connection to his other films – but he is most memorable for the petulant antagonism that he shows his interviewer (at one point he interrupts her with "What are you talking about?", and he ends the interview by waving his arms dismissively in the air); interview with Emmanuelle Béart (15min, French with English subtitles) in which she rambles vaguely about Rivettes habit of disorienting his actors on-set and telling them as little about a production as possible; filmographies of Jacques Rivette, Emmanuelle Béart, Jerzy Radziwilowicz; theatrical trailer (French, no subtitles). Version reviewed: Artificial Eye edition DVD Extras Rating: 3/10


This romantic mystery could still be timeless without taking an eternity.