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Les Demoiselles De Rochefort

aka - Young Girls of Rochefort, The
France 1967
Directed by
Jacques Demy
120 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Demoiselles De Rochefort, Les

Synopsis: One weekend in the seaside town of Rochefort in which a fair taking place, twins sisters Delphine and Solange, (played by real life sisters although not twins Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac who was killed in a car accident shortly after filming) who teach ballet and music lessons and dream of love and Paris meet two carefree carnies, Étienne (George Chakiris) and Bill (Grover Dale in a role originally intended for Nino Castelnuovo who played the lead male in Les Parapluies De Cherbourg). Meanwhile the twins' mother, (Danielle Darrieux) pines for a fiancé, the unfortunately named Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli), whom she dumped ten years ealier and who unbeknownst to her has recently opened a music shop in Rochefort, a young sailor and poet-painter (Jacques Perrin) dreams of his feminine ideal and American (Gene Kelly) turns up in town looking for his Conservatoire buddy, Dame.

After the huge success of his 1964 film, Les Parapluies De Cherbourg, Jacques Demy came up with this story of love and romance. Musicals are not known for their substance but this has never stopped our enjoyment of them. However the problem with this film is not the contrived nature of the story but that Demy is so self-consciously and romantically gay (in the old meaning of the word, though most would say that there’s quite a bit of its post 70s meaning here too) in his telling of it that the lack of stylistic variety (despite a small detour into an axe murder) wears over the course of its 2 hour running time.

Whilst noticeably lacking the audacity of Les Parapluies, the film suffers many of the problems of sequels, even of a loose nature such as this one. Michel Legrand ‘s score with lyrics by Demy delivers songs thick-and-fast interspersed with burst of dialogue that, though clever both musically and lyrically, tend to be neither fish nor fowl, at least to English ears. That is, they are not sung dialogue as with Les Parapluies nor are they musical interludes as with the conventional Hollywood musical but fall somewhere in between. Compared to the earlier film the loss is greater than the gain.

Another alteration to the earlier model, the addition of choreography which is reminiscent of Jerome Robbins’ style adds nothing if not intrusion (Robbins choreographed West Side Story, 1961, which is probably the closest American forbear to Demy's musical. George Chakiris who plays Étienne here, was one of its principal cast). Gene Kelly is an understandable but odd addition not least because his spoken voice is dubbed (apparently there was an English language version of the film made but it seems to have been lost) but also because he simply looks too old and his “self-appropriating” dancing recalls equivalent performances by Astaire in some of his late films. Demy even fails to make Deneuve, who sports ill-suited hairdos throughout the film, look good, whilst the use of colour which was more decoratively Matissean in Les Parapluies has here changed to flat planes, its use more contrived and arbitrary.

Overall, the film races from one set scene to another never apportioning the emotional or dramatic weight to any of them until the very end when, against the relentlessly effervescent spirit of the film, it seems that Deneuve and her young soulmate are destined not to meet. Even here Demy, who perhaps thought that that would be too similar to the melancholy ending of Les Parapluies falls back on convention rather than injecting some thematic cross-current that might have given the film a more affecting connection to the real world of Rochefort and beyond and reduced the over-sweetness that afflicts it.




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