''Celine and Julie Go Boating'' is the best video of the year -- but don't be alarmed

Celine and Julie Go Boating

Video of the Year: 1 CELINE & JULIE GO BOATING (New Yorker, unrated) All right, it’s a 23-year-old, 187-minute French film that makes Seinfeld look like it’s about Something. But one of home video’s continuing pleasures is the way it coughs up shimmering gifts from out-of-the-way corners of movie history. And simply put, there was no richer, sunnier, better video released this year than Jacques Rivette’s long-lost cult film about two women’s journey down the rabbit hole of fantasy.

The plot is as casual as a child’s game of dress up. Julie (Dominique Labourier, red-haired and decisive) and Celine (Juliet Berto, sloe-eyed and dreamy) meet in lazy, off-season Paris and circle around each other like playful alter egos. Gradually, they stumble into a mystery: a quiet suburban house within which the same turgid melodrama plays out day after day, involving two frail sisters (Bulle Ogier and Marie-France Pisier), a hunky widower (Reversal of Fortune director Barbet Schroeder), and a doomed little girl. In short, this is a house of Fiction, and our two heroines determine to bust open the cloistered narrative and rescue the child. It’s a little as if Thelma and Louise had got stuck in Groundhog Day and were eyeing the exits with dangerous grins.

It also unwinds slowly, so slowly as to exasperate moviegoing metabolisms weaned on MTV shock cuts. Stay with it, though — think of it as a daydream unreeling while you tan on a Montmartre bench — and you’ll discover a tale that reflects back on the way we watch movies and a comedy wise enough to recharge your soul. Oh, and you’ll never look at hard candy the same way again.

2 MESSAGE TO LOVE: THE ISLE OF WIGHT — THE MOVIE (Sony Music, unrated) If Woodstock is the hippie utopia of ’60s concert films and Gimme Shelter the bad-acid nightmare, then Message is the embarrassingly brain-dead reality. The last of the era’s multi-day music happenings, 1970’s Isle of Wight festival was a botch from the get go: Some performers refused to play unless paid in cash, the stage caught on fire, and a mob of radical groovers turned the event into an increasingly idiotic ”people’s festival.” Yes, here’s Jimi Hendrix scorching the strings 18 days before his death — plus the Doors, the Who, Joni Mitchell, and many others. More to the point, here’s festival emcee Rikki Farr whining from the stage, ”We put this festival on — you bastards — with a lot of love!” When your kids ask what the ’60s were like, show them this — if you dare.

3 LONE STAR (Columbia TriStar, R) John Sayles makes movies that play like great, vivid novels — you can re-rent them the way you return to certain favorite books. In this one, Chris Cooper plays a sad-faced Texas sheriff whose discovery of a skeleton in the desert forces him to face down the ghosts of his hero-cop father (Matthew McConaughey) and his father’s rival, a scorpion of a lawman played by a snarling Kris Kristofferson. Hollywood would have turned this into a thunderous showdown, but Sayles knows Lone Star‘s real battle — between dead parents and living children — can’t be resolved with blood squibs and explosions. Instead, he gives us a town’s teeming characters and caps the film with a love scene that would shock if it weren’t so calm with forgiveness.

Celine and Julie Go Boating
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