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Customer Review

on 29 July 2005
Marie and Julien have, it appears, enjoyed a brief dalliance in the past: at the time they were both in unsatisfactory relationships but, now free, they realise how much they long to be together again. Julien seems to conjure her up out of a dream - they meet ... unsure, but certain, and begin an affair, an epic love story.
We learn nothing of Marie, but we slowly discover Julien. He is a clock repairer - old clocks, big clocks. His hands - butcher's hands - are always dirty, his house is dominated by clutter and chaos. Yet he strives to make things run like clockwork. He also dabbles in blackmail - we are left wondering about his darker side, wondering how it is that he can manipulate his victim so blatantly.
But Julien invites Marie into his idiosyncratic world. It's a bachelor world - he's shared it with at least one woman before, but the only influence she's had on him is negligible ... and now forgotten. Some of her clothes remain in a wardrobe, some of her cosmetics are in a bathroom cabinet: her existence is shut away behind closed doors, archived in Julien's past.
Marie sets about the transformation of a spare room, imposing her identity on it and signifying her entry into his world. She empties the wardrobe and bathroom cabinet of evidence of Julien's earlier relationship and quickly establishes herself as his accomplice in the blackmail sideline.
But she remains a mystery figure, elusive, a young woman prone to dissolving into a trancelike state - capable even of walking out and abandoning him when the mood seizes her. She rapidly becomes the centre of his life, but we are never certain whether he remains peripheral to hers ... or precisely what it is she wants from him. The mystery gradually deepens.
Jacques Rivette directs this film with astonishing magnanimity. His presence is almost anonymous as Emmanuelle Béart and Jerzy Radziwilowicz are allowed to dominate the screen and stamp their personalities on the narrative. The film, however, is typical Rivette - slow moving, lyrically erotic, embracing naturalistic sounds and effects, yet with tantalising use of fantasy and enigma.
It's a long film - nearly two and a half hours. Its long, lyrical silences are fascinating enough, but you wonder if it could not have been cut by thirty minutes without losing anything. However, despite its urban setting, it is a film which creates an almost pastoral sense of tranquillity: indeed, this sense of tranquillity, this sense of any lack of urgency heightens the amorality of Julien's blackmail, and makes the tensions in his relationship with Marie so much more human. He's a tolerant man, a patient man, a man who understands the measure of time, a man who is not in any hurry. But time, we will discover, is of the essence of the story.
Delightful, relaxing film with a couple of entertaining extras served up on the DVD. There is an enjoyable interview with Emmanuelle Béart, and an intriguing one with Rivette - who seems quite intolerant and dismissive of the interviewer at times, and who appears to view the need to provide 'extras' as an insult to his art and invasion of his time.
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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