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