Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 126 mins
Released: 28 July 2008
Cat No: BFIVD770
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Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
After their award-winning success with ’The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’, director Jacques Demy, composer Michel Legrand and star Catherine... Read More
F ollowing the rapturous reception accorded to his pop opera The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in 1964, Jacques Demy continued in the same vein with Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, which encapsulated his passion for the Hollywood musical, while also revealing him to be every bit as cinematically subversive as Truffaut and Godard. Indeed, this candy-coloured confection could easily be considered the last great film of the nouvelle vague.
For all its complexities, the plot is almost an irrelevance. Danielle Darrieux owns a café on the square in the coastal town of Rochefort, where twin daughters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac teach music and dance to local kids while dreaming of making it big in Paris and finding the ideal man. Deneuve has a crush on artist Jacques Perrin (whom she has never met), while Darrieux loves the father of her young son, Michel Piccoli, who runs a nearby music store and is friends with celebrated American composer Gene Kelly – who falls for Dorleac.
The various romantic contrivances provide a convenient dramatic structure. But Demy is more interested in the bustle of life outside Darrieux’s window that centres on the fair that brings likely lads George Chakiris and Grover Dale to town. Consequently, peripheral characters break into dance steps as well as the principals, and this sense of spontaneity spills over into the songs, which Demy and Michel Legrand composed in the manner of Rodgers and Hart to flow naturally from the dialogue, so that speaking and singing became interchangeable.
The influence of Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight and Minnelli’s An American in Paris is readily apparent, but this sly satire on Franco-American relations also shares a fondness for action on the edge of the frame with Jacques Tati’s Playtime. Far from being an outdated throwback, this is every bit as modern and audacious as 1967’s other major musical event, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.