The Story of Marie and Julien (2003)

“To each his secrets.”

The French film The Story of Marie and Julien begins with Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) snoozing on a park bench. He dreams of a woman named Marie (Emmanuelle Beart). Coincidentally, when he wakes up, he runs into Marie and they arrange to meet another day. Exactly how he knows Marie and what their relationship is remains rather vague.

Julien lives with his cat, Nevermore, and repairs clocks for a living. His house is full of clocks, and yet here is man who seems to have created a life without the rigours of a workday schedule. Mending clocks is, Julien claims “a matter of patience.” Julien supplements his income by indulging in a little blackmail. He’s blackmailing a well-heeled silk merchant named Madame X (Anne Brochet). Again, exactly how this blackmail started is vague. Madame X is apparently guilty of fraudulently passing off silk products, and Julien somehow has the dirt and the incriminating evidence–a doll, a certificate, and a photograph.

As Julien slips deeper into his blackmail scheme, he moves Marie into his vast, neglected house. She becomes obsessed with one small room upstairs–moving dusty pieces of furniture, slipping silently in and out of the house. While Julien and Marie’s sex scenes are full of passion, the rest of their relationship remains obscure. There’s obviously something not quite right about Marie, but does Julien really want to know the truth?

The Story of Marie and Julien is directed by Jacques Rivette. The film seems to take the viewer into the realm of a crime drama, but then veers away into the supernatural. The entire blackmail subplot is unsatisfying and distracting, and it seems to exist only to support–weakly–the main story here–that of Marie and Julien. Madame X’s relationship with her blackmailer, Julien, is unrealistic, and Julien makes a very unlikely blackmailer. The bizarre relationship between Julien and Marie remains the fascinating element of the film. If you enjoyed La Belle Noiseuse, then there’s a good chance, you’ll enjoy the lengthy tale of Marie & Julien. Rivette fans will sink into the film’s 150 minutes. Those driven to the brink of insanity by La Belle Noiseuse will feel frustrated and unsatisfied by the film.

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