Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Bittersweet Taste of France: the Films of Jacques Demy at TIFF Cinematheque

Films in Bitter/Sweet: The Joyous Cinema of Jacques Demy

Now on at TIFF Cinematheque

French filmmaker Jacques Demy (1931 - 1990) created musical marvels in the 60’s which at first glance appear like old Hollywood redux in candy coloured pops. Bursts of joy starring gorgeous people – some of them American - Gene Kelly and George Chakiris – seem crazily out of touch with the radical  new wave French cinema of the time – which was cold, spare, existential, political, philosophical and rebellious.  Cinematheque offers a rare programme of Demy's best works, perfect for summer with their joie de vivre and brilliant colours with dashes of ashes.
Model Shop
Demy’s films feature lavish production numbers, layers of decoration and pretty faces heavily influenced by the are pure Hollywood Technicolor musical fantasy.  But to dismiss cotton candy as just for dessert misses the point.  Demy’s stories are about love and fate and what could be crueller than those realities?   He takes different paths in each film and some characters are more successful than others in realising their dreams, but there is always music. 
Lola (1961) stars Anouk Aimee as a wasp-wasted cabaret singer in lace bustier and top hat, obsessing over the man who left her alone with their child.  She romanticises their affair and dreams he will come back.  But if he does, then what? The character of Lola shows up again in Model Shop (1969)  in which she is a model who poses for paying customers in a seedy part of LA.  She lives in the past remembering her old love.  The film features a brief cameo of comedian Fred Willard as a gas station attendant.  Demy’s California is golden, flat and strangely off balance and feels like something desperate or sad is about to happen. 
Bay of Angels
Bay of Angels (1963) stars Jeanne Moreau, young and blond, shot in crisp black and white which highlights the unconventional beauty of her face, the bone structure and intensity of feeling in her eyes.  She is a gambler in the south of France who swoops up a young man experimenting with gambling to spite his father and find meaning in his otherwise boring life as a clerk.  Their relationship is unstable, tied to their success at the tables.  The film is stunning to look at and Moreau’s smoky allure is shockingly alive next to the banker.  The end is completely unexpected on every possible level.
The Umbrella of Cherbourg
The music comes on strong in two features starring France’s pride Catherine Deneuve, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) both love obsessed tales centred on family relationships.  Deneuve’s mother in Cherbourg runs an umbrella shop and mistakes a wealthy man’s interest in her daughter for interest in her.  Her daughter is pregnant by her boyfriend who is fighting in the Algerian war, so everyone is sad.  It’s an incredibly pretty film with heart wrenching songs and décor as its primary conceit.  While it is unashamedly pretty, it’s saturated with pain and longing for things that cannot be had and are lost forever. 

      The Young Girls of Rochefort
The Young Girls of Rochefort is set on the seaside where dance numbers take place just about everywhere, in the square, in an ultra-mod café, on vessels and bridges.  Deneuve’s sister Francois Dorleac, who died in an accident after the film was shot, stars as her sister with Danielle Darrieux as their mother.  They too send confused signals in love but unlike the pain of Umbrellas, all the girls of Rochefort may well achieve happiness.  Bonus - Kelly dances up a solo storm along the cobbled streets and Chakiris dances en masse and sings in French.   It’s a giant gorgeous dose of Gallicised Hollywood with a happy ending!  In a French film in the 60’s? Wow!
Cinematheque is offering a programme of Demy’s favourite films as an added attraction. They include The 400 Blows, Singin’ in the Rain, Alpha Ville, All About Eve, An American in Paris, Paradise Lost, Johnny Guitar and others. 



No comments:

Post a Comment