Juliet Berto as Celine and Dominique Labourier as Julie in Celine and Julie Go Boating.
Mary Evans/Ronald Grant Archive/Everett Collection

Somehow we’ve come to distrust stories about friendships between women when they’re made by men, without considering how few men actually care to think much about such friendships in the first place. But French New Wave filmmaker Jacques Rivette cared, and his affection and curiosity ring out through every minute of this three-hour (plus) whirl of theatrical experimentation and delight. Dominique Labourier’s Julie is a dreamy librarian; Juliet Berto’s Celine is a flaky magician. The two meet as Julie, sitting on a bench in a Parisian park, engrossed in a book about magic, looks up and sees a woman flying along the path on spindly legs, dropping silk scarves and invisible stardust in her wake. Julie runs after her, and a friendship is born, one that draws the duo into an imaginary—or is it real?—world of Gothic domestic melodrama set in a spooky deserted house (and drawn, in a roundabout way, from two works by Henry James). Rivette speaks in a language of color and joy: there’s enchantment in the moment Julie, a redhead in a rust-colored dress, hands Celine, a brunette in a bright blue silk robe, a bloody Mary—it’s a talisman of relaxation after a long, stressful day. This is a great, sprawling work of wordplay, fantasy, and revelry, with the occasional cat slinking through, a movie dream, a dreamed movie, or something in between.

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