After watching this long and often amusing film, which was made in 1974 and directed by the French master Jacques Rivette, I visited IMDb for information about the actors (Dominique Labourier and Juliet Berto) and cinematographer (Jacques Renard). Just before concluding my little research, I came across the most fascinating review of the film. It was posted in 1999 by a non-critic and San Franciscan named Damion Matthews. The first line pulled me in: "Last year, at a crisis time of imminent homelessness, I went to the video store with the idea of renting some banal new release to distract me from my troubles. Waiting in line holding a video starring Tom Hanks (or was it Kevin Costner? Maybe it was Julia Roberts. Such a blur is Hollywood today) something in the foreign section an aisle down caught my eye. It was the video for Jacques Rivette's 1974 masterpiece, Celine and Julie Go Boating."
Mr. Matthews rented the movie because of its cover ("Juliet Berto posed as a magician, her Dietrich hauteur kinky and comical") and its length ("It had long been my suspicion that all secrets of life would be revealed in a film over three hours long and in French"). He loved every minute of it: "It conceals as it reveals, which is to say that its great mysteriousness results from its floribundance of revelation. Yes, my friend, a floribundance! I never even thought of such a word until seeing Celine and Julie."
What Mr. Matthews's review revealed to me was something I had never really considered: There's good escapism and bad escapism. Bad escapism simply exploits your need for a distraction; good escapism rewards your distraction with happy thoughts, strange ideas, and even words that never existed. However, not long after Mr. Matthews watched Celine and Julie Go Boating—a film that is about the imagination and has no weight, no gravity, but drifts about like a pretty feather in the wind (I was almost wrote "plastic bag," but then remembered how much I hated American Beauty)—reality got a grip on his life and threw it onto the streets of San Francisco.
"When I was briefly without a place to live," he writes at the end of his post, "I thought of this film and was taken to a sunny day in Montmartre, a house where the living and unliving mingle, a library where stalkers and smokers meet. I savored that magic, the effect of great art on the mind, and I knew I was not truly homeless." Northwest Film Forum, June 29–July 5.