This Week on Filmstruck: Jacques Demy | Bleader

Friday, February 16, 2018

This Week on Filmstruck: Jacques Demy

Posted By on 02.16.18 at 08:00 AM

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click to enlarge Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac in Jacques Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort
  • Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac in Jacques Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort

One of cinema's great visual stylists, filmmaker Jacques Demy (1931-1990) was part of the other French New Wave—the Paris Left-Bank group of directors that included Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, and Demy's wife, Agnès Varda. As a complement to Varda's recent Oscar nomination and surge in celebrity, this week we're spotlighting five Demy films currently showing on Filmstruck. Varda's 1995 documentary The World of Jacques Demy is also showing in the Demy collection on the streaming channel.

Lola
Jacques Demy's first and in some ways best feature (1961), shot in exquisite black-and-white 'Scope by Raoul Coutard, is among the most neglected major works of the French New Wave. Abandoned by her sailor lover, a cabaret dancer (Anouk Aimee) brings up their son while awaiting his return and ultimately has to choose among three men. Chock-full of film references (to The Blue Angel, Breathless, Hollywood musicals, the work of Max Ophuls, etc) and lyrically shot in Nantes, the film is a camera stylo love letter, and Michel Legrand's lovely score provides ideal nostalgic accompaniment. In his third feature and biggest hit, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Demy settled on life's disappointments; here at least one major character gets exactly what she wants, and the effect is no less poignant. With Marc Michel, Jacques Harden, and Elina Labourdette (the young heroine in Robert Bresson's 1945 Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne). In French with subtitles. 90 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Bay of Angels
I've never been persuaded that Jacques Demy's second feature (1963) ranks alongside the masterpiece that preceded it (Lola) or those that followed (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort). It was made during a preproduction delay on Umbrellas and has all the advantages as well as the drawbacks of a relatively hasty preparation. Alternately lighthearted and melancholy, it's a striking look at obsessional behavior, as a bank clerk on holiday in Nice (Claude Mann) gets involved with a compulsive gambler (Jeanne Moreau); even Michel Legrand's theme music has a hint of repetition compulsion. The film was clearly influenced in certain particulars by Robert Bresson's Pickpocket, and in many ways it's darker than the other early Demys, even the explicitly tragic Umbrellas. Moreau gives an interesting performance despite—or is it because of?—the fact that she's dressed like a camp icon, whereas the sheer drabness of Mann's character makes him a very Demy-like exemplar of the quotidian. After Raoul Coutard's exquisitely lit black-and-white 'Scope work in Lola, cinematographer Jean Rabier fills the wide-screen frame with sadder gray tones—beautifully restored in 2000 by Demy's widow, Agnes Varda—that provide an ironic counterpoint to the lush casino, hotel, and beach settings of the Cote d'Azur. In French with subtitles. 79 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Jacques Demy's 1964 "film opera," with music by Michel Legrand, has a reputation for sappiness it doesn't deserve. The chief feature of Demy's direction is his deft avoidance of the pat, the obvious, and the sentimental, which is no mean feat when you're dealing with material as self-consciously simple as this. Catherine Deneuve loses her fiance to the draft; he's wounded and doesn't write, so she reluctantly marries someone else. With Anne Vernon, Nino Castelnuovo, and Marc Michel. In French with subtitles. 91 min. —Dave Kehr

The Young Girls of Rochefort
One might argue for Lola (1960), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), or the lesser-known Une Chambre en Ville (1982) as Jacques Demy's greatest feature. But his most ambitious is this 1967 big-budget musical shot exclusively on location, a tale of various dreamers searching for and usually missing their ideal mates, who are usually only blocks away. The score is Michel Legrand's finest, with various jazz elements, lyrics in alexandrines by Demy, and intricately structured reprises that match the poetic, crisscrossing plot. Demy pays tribute to the American musical yet mixes in accoutrements of French poetic realism: dreams and reality coexist more strangely and stubbornly than in most other musicals. The results may be quintessentially French, but the energy and optimism are clearly inspired by America, and Gene Kelly's appearances are sublime. With Catherine Deneuve. In French with subtitles. 124 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Donkey Skin
The French fairy tale Peau d'Ane transformed into a 1970 musical by the Umbrellas of Cherbourg team of director Jacques Demy and composer Michel Legrand. It doesn't come off, despite a dazzling color design and imaginative sets, perhaps because Demy's extremely rarefied talent for fantasy needs to be anchored by a touch of the real. With Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais, Jacques Perrin, Micheline Presle, and Delphine Seyrig. In French with subtitles. 100 min. —Dave Kehr

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