The Story of Marie and Julien (L'Histoire de Marie et Julien)

Laura Clifford Robin Clifford 
The Story of Marie and Julien (L'Histoire de Marie et Julien)
Robin Clifford Robin Clifford 

French master Jacques Rivette ("Va Savoir") delivers another of his slow, meditative films with "Histoire de Marie et Julien," carved into four segments.  'Julien' begins with Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz, "The Iron Man") running into Marie (Emmanuelle Beart, "8 Women") in a park.  The two actors are stilted, theatrical.  She raises a knife.  In the second scene, the duo meet more naturally on a rainy street.  Each says they've just had a dream about the other and agree to meet. Julien, who repairs and restores antique clocks, then meets with Madame X (Anne Brochet, "Tous les Matins du Monde") to blackmail her for trafficking in fake antiques.  Julien works on his clocks with his inquisitive companion Nevermore, a cat, and tells the cat that there is nothing upstairs for it to be interested in.  He has dinner with Marie who is living in a short-term, furnished apartment, but when he awakens in her bed the next morning he discovers she has checked out and his home has been ransacked.  He suspects a connection with Madame X.  A mysterious phone calls tells him he can find Marie at a local hotel.

As the film enters the 'Julien et Marie' segment, things continue to be unsettling.  Marie moves in with Julien and begins ridding his home of his ex-lover's things.  She finds Julien's blackmail items, including a picture of Madame X with another woman, hidden in a clock and becomes obsessed with the empty room upstairs and begins to make it over, taking great care with the placement of objects.  She scratches herself and tells the cat not to tell Julien she didn't bleed.  She meets with Madame X, who appears to almost recognize her, then meets the other woman from the photo, Adrienne, around the corner.  Adrienne gives her a letter.  Marie turns hot and cold with Julien and tells him something awful will take her away from him.

'Marie et Julien' begins to answer some of the questions, making connections between the blackmailer and his victim via the women at their sides.  Julien begins to look into Marie's background (they had only met once before and felt an immediate attraction before their meeting at the film's beginning) in an attempt to find the answers that arrive in 'Marie.'

Rivette's glacial film creates a unique world of dulled Parisian blues and grays, exemplified by the fabulous production design and art direction (Christian Lambert and Manu de Chauvigny) of Julien's old, cold house.  Julien's space is dominated by the presence of his clockworks, delineated from the corridors leading to the other domestic niches (kitchen, that room upstairs, bedroom).  There is no score, only the haunting tick tock of clocks which presage the sound of a stylus repeating at the end of a record album which accompanies a revelatory event.  For all the film's technical accomplishment and mood drenching atmosphere of mystery, however, the lack of warmth in the characters (Julien, is, after all, a heartless blackmailer while Marie is never anything but excessively odd) keeps this 'eternal' love story from having any emotional payoff.  It is both intriguing and ultimately unsatisfying.  B-.

Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) is a clockmaker in his 40’s living a lonely life a year after the woman he loved, Marie (Emmanuelle Beart), disappeared without a trace. Now, he is involved in a blackmail scheme centered on the mysterious Madame X (Anne Brochet), a trafficker in fake and stolen antiques, when Marie reappears on the scene. The beautiful young woman has a detached, ethereal air about her as the two rekindle their past relationship and Marie begins to construct a room that explains it all in “The Story of Marie and Julien.”

Veteran Franco helmer Jacques Rivette takes on an odd sort of ghost story that is, perhaps, a bit more ambiguous than it should be. Things don’t quite make sense as Julien dreams of his long lost Marie trying to kill him. He is involved in a scam, for some reason, in providing forged documents for a collection of fake antiques for Madame X. When Marie returns, suddenly and without explanation, Julien accepts it willingly as he takes on a large-scale clock repair job. An idyllic life, of sorts, is regained but the wistful Marie is troubled.

She commandeers a spare room in Julien’s rambling home and, very particularly, begins to furnish and appoint the chamber. You get the impression that things are getting otherworldly as Madame X’s sister’s story and Marie’s story become intertwined and the mysteries begin to unfold. What transpires is a moderately intriguing tale that is a little too ethereal, especially Beart’s performance which seemed far too mannered.

This is a movie, though, that I could not get my arms around and I always felt like an outsider looking in, not given an emotional hook into the story. It is lovely to look at, gorgeously photographed by William Lubchansky, and Julien’s home is a character unto itself. But, the film never stirred my core.

I give it a C+.

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