The Young Girls of Rochefort [Les demoiselles de Rochefort] .
Ticket Information: $9.50 general admission at the door
courtesy of The Criterion Collection:
Jacques Demy followed up The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with another musical about missed connections and second chances, this one a more effervescent confection. Twins Delphine and Solange, a dance instructor and a music teacher (played by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac), long for big-city life; when a fair comes through their quiet port town, so does the possibility of escape. With its jazzy Michel Legrand score, pastel paradise of costumes, and divine supporting cast (George Chakiris, Grover Dale, Danielle Darrieux, Michel Piccoli, and Gene Kelly), The Young Girls of Rochefort is a tribute to Hollywood optimism from sixties French cinema’s preeminent dreamer.
“I’m trying to create a world in my films.”
courtesy of filmdirectorssite.com:
Jacques Demy’s first feature film, Lola, is among the early distinguished products of the New Wave and is dedicated to Max Ophüls. These two facts in conjunction define its particular character. It proved to be the first in a series of loosely interlinked films (the intertextuality is rather more than a charming gimmick, relating as it does to certain thematic preoccupations already established in Lola itself); arguably, it remains the richest and most satisfying work so far in Demy’s erratic, frustrating, but also somewhat underrated career.
The name and character of Lola (Anouk Aim?e) herself can be traced to two previous celebrated female protagonists: the Lola Montés of Max Ophüls’s film of that name, and the Lola-Lola (Marlene Dietrich) of von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, to which Demy pays homage in a number performed by Aimée in a top hat. The explicit philosophy of Lola Montés (“For me, life is movement”) is enacted in Demy’s film by the constant comings and goings, arrivals and departures, and intricate intercrossings of the characters. Ophüls’s work has often been linked to concepts of fate; at the same time the auteurs of the early New Wave were preoccupied with establishing Freedom—as a metaphysical principle, to be enacted in their professional methodology. The tension between fate and freedom is there throughout Demy’s work. Lola‘s credit sequence alternates the improvisatory freedom of jazz with the slow movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. The latter musical work is explicitly associated with destiny in the form of the huge white American car that brings back Michel, Lola’s lover and father of her child, who, like his predecessors in innumerable folk songs, has left her for seven years to make his fortune. No film is more intricately and obsessively patterned, with all the characters interlinked: the middle-aged woman used to be Lola (or someone like her), her teenage daughter may become Lola (or someone like her). Yet neither resembles Lola as she is in the film: everyone is different, yet everyone is interchangeable.
Two subsequent Demy films relate closely to Lola. In Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Roland, Lola’s rejected lover, recounts his brief liaison with Lola to the visual accompaniment of a flashback to the arcade that was one of their meeting-places. In addition, Lola herself reappears in The Model Shop. Two other films are bound in to the series as well. Les Demoiselles de Rochefort is linked by means of a certain cheating on the part of Demy—Lola has been found murdered and dismembered in a laundry basket, but the corpse is a different Lola. Especially poignant, as the series continues, is the treatment of the abrupt, unpredictable, seemingly fortuitous happy ending. At the end of Lola, Lola drives off with Michel and their child (as Roland of Parapluies, discarded and embittered, departs on his diamond-smuggling trip to South Africa). At the conclusion of Le Baie des Anges—a film that, at the time, revealed no connection with Lola—Jackie (Jeanne Moreau), a compulsive gambler, manages to leave the casino to follow her lover before she knows the result of her bet: two happy endings which are exhilarating precisely because they are so arbitrary. Then, several films later, in Model Shop, Lola recounts how her great love Michel abandoned her to run off with a compulsive gambler called Jackie. Thus both happy endings are reversed in a single blow.
It is not so much that Demy doesn’t believe in happy endings: he simply doesn’t believe in permanent ones (as “life is movement”). The ambivalent, bittersweet “feel” of Demy is perhaps best summed up in the end of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, where the lovers, now both married to others, accidentally meet, implicitly acknowledge their love, and return with acceptance to the relationships to which they are committed.
Outside the Lola series, Demy’s touch has been uncertain. His two fairy-tale films, Peau d’ane and The Pied Piper, unfortunately tend to confirm the common judgment that he is more a decorator than a creator. But he should not be discounted. A Room in Town, a return to the Lola mode if not to the Lola characters, was favorably received.
Demy’s final two credits, Parking and Three Places for the 26th, are musicals that disappointed in that they were unable to capture the spark of his earlier work. Agnes Varda, his wife of almost three decades, then directed a film about Demy titled Jacquot de Nantes, which was released a year after his death. The film is a poignant, straight-from-the-heart record of the measure of a man’s life, with Varda shifting between interviews with Demy (tenderly shot in extreme close-up), sequences from his films, and a narrative that details the youth of Demy in Nantes during the 1940s and relates how he cultivated a love of the movies. The film works best, however, as a beautiful and poignantly composed love letter. Its essence is summed up in one of its opening shots: the camera pans the content of a watercolor, focusing first on a nude woman, then on a nude man, and finally on their interlocking hands.
Jacquot de Nantes is obviously a very personal film. But it was not meant to be a tribute; rather, it was conceived and filmed when Demy was still alive. “Jacques would speak about his childhood, which he loved,” Varda explained at a New York Film Festival press conference. “His memories were very vivid. I told him, ‘Why don’t you write about them?’ So he did, and he let me read the pages. The more he wrote the more he remembered—even the names of the children who sat next to him in school. Most children do not know what they want to do when they grow up. But Jacques did, from the time he was 12. He had an incredible will. So I said, ‘This [material] would make a good film.’ I wrote the script, and I tried to capture the spirit of Jacques and his family, and the way people spoke and acted in [the 1940s]. We shot the film in the exact [locations] in which he grew up. I also filmed an interview with him. It’s just Jacques speaking about his childhood. It’s not a documentary about Jacques Demy. It’s just him saying, ‘Yes, this is true. This is my life.'”
“He saw most of the final [version]. When Jacques ‘went away,’ I had to finish the film. It was difficult, but that’s the only thing I know. I think the film makes Jacques very alive.”
Demy was the subject of two follow-ups to Jacquot de Nantes, also directed by Varda: The Young Girls Turn 25, a sentimental reminiscence of the filming of The Young Girls of Rochefort and The World of Jacques Demy, an intensely intimate documentary-biography which includes clips from his films and interviews with those who worked with and respected him.
– ROBIN WOOD and ROB EDELMAN
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6/3/16 – “Given the extraordinary lift Gene Kelly gives the movie, it’s hardly surprising that Jacques Demy wanted him from the outset, though he had to wait two years before Kelly was free of other commitments. Indeed, Kelly brings to the movie the kind of boundless elation musicals exist to produce, as do Chakiris and Dale, the other two American dancers featured, though to a lesser extent. Indeed, it’s the combination of this spirit with the soul of the French cast that gives The Young Girls of Rochefort its distinctive flavor. Like the pairing of Jean Seberg with Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard’s Breathless, or the mating of a David Goodis plot with Charles Aznavour’s mug in Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, this combination provides the kind of combustion that powered the French New Wave and the general reinvention of movie energy in the 1960s. Godard and Truffaut may have watered the roots, but it was Demy who produced this relatively late blooming flower, combining the virtues of the Hollywood musical with French poetic realism to produce these fresh, colorful petals.” Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader – link
6/4/16 – “Cahiers Du Cinéma described the film as ‘the first true French musical… the most ambitious film ever undertaken, not because Demy is attempting something apart from the traditions of French cinema, but because he is in the process of creating a tradition’.” Rodney F. Hill, Senses of Cinema – link