Meeting by chance in a Parisian park, Montmartre magician Céline befriends occult-fixated librarian Julie and they soon find themselves at the centre of a murderous melodrama being staged in a possibly haunted house.
Frustrated at having to abandon his variation on The Phantom of the Opera, Jacques Rivette teamed with his proposed Phénix star, Juliet Berto, to concoct a scenario for her and her friend, Dominique Labourier. Working in tandem with screenwriter Eduardo de Gregario, the trio conceived this freewheeling epic as a series of seemingly improvised, but in fact meticulously planned episodes, which explored such contrasting issues as magic and myth, fantasy and memory, time and place, and identity and duality.
Infused with the spirit of Alice in Wonderland, the action also alluded to the writings of Proust, Borges and Pirandello, as well as the films of Louis Feuillade, Jean Cocteau and Alfred Hitchcock. But, while some critics protested at the three-hour running time and lack of obvious meaning, others recognised it as Rivette's most mesmerising offering and it has since acquired cult status (thanks in no small part to the fact that the heroines constantly have to consume enchanted candy to make sense of their experiences in the possibly haunted mansion). Closing with an inversion of its opening, this is a consistently mischievous picture that's best appreciated by surrendering to its meandering flow of images and ideas. In true New Wave style, Rivette endlessly subverts narrative convention and by having Céline and Julie slip in and out of fiction, he challenges the very nature of authorship. Consequently, we're left to wonder whether they are spectators of or participants in `Phantom Ladies Over Paris' (the film-within-the-film, which was based on a couple of short stories by Henry James) and the fact that they ultimately find themselves in custody of young Madlyn (the child that Bulle Ogier and Marie-France Pisier seem prepared to murder in order to wed her widowed father, Barbet Schroeder) only further blurs the line between the real and the imagined, the lived and the dreamed.
One of new wave French cinema's more magical mythical contributions