In the world of Marie and Julien life is not based on the tangible evidence we’ve been taught to trust. Characters are solid: they think, yet don’t feel; and they react. Legendary director Jacques Rivette places them in an educated middle-class life (books, ramshackle kitchens and an adoration of the ‘right kind’ of aesthetics) and proceeds to move its pillars and shake its foundations, creating a compelling and disturbing world.
Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) is a clock-smith and is unhappy with the cogs that life has formed in him. He wanted something different: ‘I have the hands of the butcher, not a clock-smith,’ he reasons, looking at Marie (Emmanuelle Béart). His large house is full of clocks in states of repair. Their ticks and tocks could belong to hearts. Hearts that function but fail to fully feel, just like those that belong to Julien and Marie. Marie is a woman who cannot bleed and Julien is a sensitive man who expresses love largely through erotic monologues and the logic of a scientist.
Marie lives with Julien. They have resumed their affair that ended a year ago. Marie is enigmatic, given to mysteriously re-arranging furniture and is intensely jealous of other women that exist, or have recently featured, in Julien’s life. What’s more, Marie’s given to unexplained silences, disappearing into her own ‘other world.’ Yet she needs, she desires and in some strange way, connects with Julien.
Julien is a cerebral man – he expresses his thoughts and his love with distance and a lack of enthusiasm. It’s as though he’s holding back, figuring things out. All the while he’s blackmailing another woman (exactly why, is unclear). The woman discloses information about Marie that makes Julien see her in a new light.
At its disconcerting core, Histoire de Marie et Julien is about love and attachment. It’s about being free, unexplainable, yet solid and reachable. Love is Marie: unknowable and unobtainable. In the world Rivette has created here, they both limp forward, just like time in a malfunctioning clock.
Director: Jacques Rivette (2003)