Skip to main content


France, 1974 (MIFF 1975)

Director: Jacques Rivette

This long film from Jacques Rivette spins a fantasy deriving from Alice in Wonderland, and from a minor tale by Henry James. Julie, a librarian, is sitting in a park in Montmartre, reading a book of magic. She sees an anxious woman, Celine, rush past, trailing sunglasses, scarf and a wrap. She follows Celine, but loses her. Julie resumes work at the library, and afterwards returns to the park to chant a spell; she then finds Celine on the stairs to her own flat. Celine tells her an extravagant story about tigers and pygmies, and mentions a mysterious house. From then on, each girl visits the house on alternate days and begins to live out a fantasy existence within it.

When they emerge, the only evidence of their visits is a piece of candy on the tongue. As the girls eat the candy, they are plunged back into reliving their fantasies. They suck their sweets and themselves become spectators at a movie. This effect is recognised in the credits with the title, 'Phantom Ladies over Paris'. The melodrama they create concerns a little girl named Madlyn, her widower father Olivier, two ladies, Camille and Sophie, and Miss Angele, Madlyn's nurse, who is played in turn by both Celine and Julie.

The story becomes complicated as the girls plan to murder Madlyn in order to marry Olivier, who had vowed not to remarry as long as his daughter was alive. Eventually, the girls enter the house together and escape with Madlyn. All three of them decide to take a boat ride, and as they drift down the river, they pass another boat carrying Olivier. Sophie and Camille. Finally. Celine is sitting on the original park seat. She looks up and sees Julie hurry past.

'The confrontation is as unsettling and mind-bending as a comic nightmare out of Bunuel, but it ends in exorcism.'Sight and Sound

'As its two heroines scuttle about like the the March Hare and Alice, creating their own reality because they believe in the sheer magic of what they are creating, they bestow on the observer a sense of wonder that is as rare in the cinema s it is jpyous to experience...' Ken Wlaschin, Films and Filming

See also...


Secret Defence is a powerful and original French crime thriller about a brother and sister caught up in layers of mystery which emerges from the supposedly accidental death of their father five years ... More »


Based on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights Jacques Rivette sets a drama laced with hatred, love, revenge and depravity. Although Catherine is in love with Roch, a foundling brought up by adoptive ... More »


“Influenced by the films of Mizoguchi, Bresson, Preminger and Cocteau, The Nun qualifies as cinematic manna.” - Cinémathèque Ontario ... Jacques Rivette's magnum opus was initially banned ... More »


The writer, Charles Peguy, once reflected that Paris belongs to those who spend the summer there preparing for the winter season. In the heat of August, and in an empty Paris, Rivette documents the ... More »


... ... No description will ever do justice to this magnificent film, a masterpiece in any­one's terms, a work which could only be a piece of cinema and nothing else, and which is one of the most ... More »


LOVE ON THE GROUND (L'AMOUR PAR TERRE) is probably the most important film Rivette has made since L'AMOUR FOU. the first film in which his opposition to conventional narrative was clearly expressed ... More »

Select a festival
Search The Film Archive
Browse By Director