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France/USA 1969
Directed by
Jacques Demy
95 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Model Shop

Synopsis: Los Angeles, 1969. While trying to borrow $100 to meet the payment on his vintage roadster George Matthews (Gary Lockwood) a discontented young would-be architect meets a mysterious woman (Anouk Aimée) who works as a model in a photographic "studio".

Very few people would mistake Jacques Demy's first English-language film for one of his better efforts (which would be his immediately preceding films, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort). The dialogue is awkward, the acting is pretty much the same (there are a significant number of non-professionals in the cast) and the production values are makeshift.

Model Shop is ostensibly a portrait of the kind of alienated character Jack Nicholson exemplified in films such as Five Easy Pieces.  Gary Lockwood, a small screen actor whom some may recognize from 2001: A Space Odyssey) is no Nicholson and his George is a rather reticent individual who is waiting to see if he will be drafted to go to Vietnam. He lives an idle existence by the beach with his air-headed girlfriend (Alexandra Hay) but when he encounters the enticingly white-garbed Lola (an incongruous Anouk Aimée reprising her title character from Demy's first film Lola) he briefly finds a purpose in his life.

Why Demy chose to make his film in America, other than as a symptom of the contemporary European fascination with American popular culture I do not know but he is well out of his depth. A lack of native experience and grasp of the vernacular means that the film never coheres as a whole in what is evidently intended by Demy to be a mirror to the disconnected condition of the times. In sum, Model Shop is piecemeal affair, a supposedly hip exposition of life in the Age of Aquarius American-style with dialogue that sounds as if it was probably translated from the French (although Demy wrote the screenplay English dialogue is credited to Adrien Joyce).

Forget the film in any normative sense, however, and just give yourself up to its spirit (the soundtrack which for no apparent reason also features Bach, Schumann and Rimsky-Korsakov is written by hippie band, Spirit, who also have a particularly excruciating cameo as George’s friends) and you will have a treat. From the long opening crane shot of George’s beachfront bungalow slap-bang up against a small oil derrick, through the wide inner-urban streets of Los Angeles with their diners, laundromats and used car lots to the unbelievably tacky photographic studio, Demy’s mix of earnest naiveté and self-conscious artiness has produced, a glorious time capsule of late 1960s Los Angeles streetscapes, hippie couture, psychedelic art and flat-out kitsch décor.




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