by Elliot Davies
The temperature’s crawling up but the rain’s still lashing down. It’s your typical bank holiday Monday, then. Luckily, the good people at the Derby Film Festival have kindly lavished us with 3+ hours of pure cinematic escapism.
He might be a berk in every way it’s possible to be a berk, but Alan Partridge sure knew what he was doing when it came to making his bank holiday plans.
If you remember, his plan was to watch as many Bond films as he could – back to back and in chronological order – with a carefully planned regiment of sustenance and waste disposal to see him through the day (“dump?”).
Things didn’t quite go according to plan. Blame orange juice and The World’s Strongest Man. But the point remains: Alan understood that bank holidays are for vegging out; for plunging wilfully and gleefully down a rabbit hole of your choosing.
Well. The bank holiday Monday programme at the 2016 Derby Film Festival is an entire field of rabbit holes, with immersive experiences to suit every taste. You can Harryhausen-it-up with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad; get grim and mortal with The Seventh Seal; get cosy and comfortable with Passport to Pimlico and A Room With A View; or preview a modern masterpiece with Mustang.
But I’m feeling woozy. Maybe it’s the unshakable head cold. Maybe it’s the seven heady films watched in the space of three days. Maybe it’s the sheer volume of cake and beer ingested while taking in those seven films. Who knows? In any case, I’m not all there today. My head’s somewhere else and my vision’s slightly blurry. There’s vegging out and there’s vegging out, and I’m ready to out-veg the lot of you. I’m ready to lose myself to something implausible and impossible.
I’m ready to spend 194 minutes sat in a comfortable seat in a darkened room with a glass of wine and a legendary slice of French new wave surrealism. It’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974). It’s the bank holiday. Bring it.
This is Jacques Rivette’s loose retelling of Alice in Wonderland. And my god, is this film loose. Our heroes, Celine and Julie, might know each other. But then, they might not. They spend about 45 minutes chasing each other across cities, borrowing and returning items of clothing, tending to each other’s wounds, and telling many, many, many strange stories.
There’s a tarot reading, in which it’s revealed that the future is in the past…or the present is in the future. This prophecy comes true. Sort of. A second narrative begins to intertwine with the main narrative – a decadent boudoir period drama with shades of Rebecca.
Through munching on some boiled sweets – and later, with the help of an elemental memory potion – Celine and Julie are able to watch this film within a film. Later still, with a talisman made out of a pair of dinosaur eyes, they find they can manipulate the action. The two women take in in turns playing the same role with the intention of saving a murdered child’s life.
So essentially, a film that opens with a young woman lazily reading in the park slowly transforms into a metaphysical trans-dimensional witchy murder mystery, with cats.
There’s lots of cats here. They could be familiars, or the whole thing could be a feline daydream. Honestly, either “explanation” makes just as much sense.
There’s lots of layers to unravel here. There’s wordplay, there’s symbolism, there’s allusion, there’s metaphor, there’s magick – and it all jams along at such a lazy pace that the whole thing has the same languid feel as a warm and breezy summer afternoon.
Many will find Celine and Julie Go Boating to be a challenging slog. But for anyone who’s ever spent a spell gazing at clouds – for anyone who’s ever been happy to simply be, to simply exist – it’s an absolute treat. It presents an inviting world of magic in which to immerse yourself for three and a quarter blissful hours.
Did I mention that I was feeling somewhat woozy? I drifted away once or twice throughout Celine and Julie. As my consciousness lapsed, the film’s dream logic began to make even more sense. I felt as though certain boundaries were blurring, yet I’m not exactly sure which boundaries.
Walking home afterwards, I experienced the same sort of grogginess that’s usually felt when you’ve fallen asleep on the train, only waking up minutes before you reach your stop. Derby was cast in perfect high-definition hyperrealism, but something seemed…off.