Films of the decade: "The Story of Marie and Julien"

Irrational, gorgeous and possibly supernatural, this confirmed its director as an unclassifiable master

By Glenn Kenny

Published December 18, 2009 8:25PM (EST)

A still from "The Story of Marie and Julien"
A still from "The Story of Marie and Julien"

The picture begins with the sound of traffic over the opening credits -- the usual white type on black background -- which slowly transforms into something a little more pastoral. The first shot is an elegant track through a path in a park, resolving on the figure of a not entirely dowdy middle-aged man seemingly passed out on a bench. The man wakes. We see what he sees -- blue sky, a massive, waving treetop. He looks up and around. He sees a woman in a white suit strolling purposefully down the path. He calls her name. She responds by saying his. He gets up and faces her. They chat. "You recognize me?" She does. After speaking for a while, she calmly raises an enormous dagger, as if to plunge it into his heart.

Now the man awakes, again, in a booth at a bistro, a nearly empty glass of Amstel at his elbow. What was it, precisely, about the opening minutes of Jacques Rivette's "Histoire de Marie et Julien" that put me under such a powerful spell, one that did not let up for the remainder of its two-and-a-half-hour running time? It's hard to say, exactly. The calm precision of the mise-en-scène, for sure. The irrationality, the intimations of supernatural forces at work that only grew stronger as the film went on. The faces of its two wonderful leads, Emmanuelle Béart and Jerzy Radziwilowicz. That darn cat. All of it. And all of it reconfirmed for me Rivette's standing as an ultimately unquantifiable master and prompted me to become ever more diligent in seeking out and exploring his other work. And that's why I have to call it my favorite film of the aughts.

Film Salon has invited a group of special guests to write about their favorite film(s) of the 2000s. To read the entire series, go here.

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny has written about film and music for The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and other publications. He was the film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007 and currently writes about movies for The Los Angeles Times, MSN Movies, The Auteurs' Notebook and others. He blogs at Some Came Running. His film roles include internet pimp "The Erotic Connoisseur" in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience" on the one hand, and Texas priest Fr. Luis Farber in Preston Miller's upcoming "God's Land" on the other.

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Best Of The Decade Film Salon Films Of The Decade Movies