Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tales of Love: The Enchanted World of Jacques Demy

This post has existed in a state of partial completion for over five months.  My procrastination strikes again.  Actually, in this instance, it's not so much procrastination as a lack of time.  I've been told no one has a lack of time.  We all make priorities and complaints about "lack of time" is just buyer's remorse over the way we have prioritized the past.

The PFA had a Jacques Demy series from July 25 to August 31.  I saw five of the films in the series.

Lola starring Anouk Aimée & Marc Michel; directed by Jacques Demy; French with subtitles; (1961)
Model Shop starring Anouk Aimée & Gary Lockwood; directed by Jacques Demy; (1969)
The Young Girls of Rochefort starring Catherine Deneuve & Françcoise Dorléac; with Gene Kelly, Michel Piccoli, George Chakiris & Danielle Darrieux; directed by Jacques Demy; French with subtitles; (1967)
The Pied Piper starring Donovan, Donald Pleasance & John Hurt; directed by Jacques Demy; (1972)
Three Seats for the 26th starring Yves Montand, Mathilda May & Françoise Fabian; directed by Jacques Demy; French with subtitles; (1988)

Two short films accompanied the films I caught.

Le sabotier du Val de Loire; documentary; directed by Jacques Demy; French with subtitles; (1956)
Lust starring Jean-Louis Trintignant; directed by Jacques Demy; French with subtitles; (1961)

Le sabotier du Val de Loire preceded Lola.  Lust preceded Model Shop.  Lust was one segment of The Seven Deadly Sins.  Each segment was named after one of the seven sins and directed by a different director.  Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol & Roger Vadim were among the other directors contributing to The Seven Deadly Sins.  Because I always forget them, the seven deadly sins are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy & gluttony.  Looking at the list, I wish I hadn't looked them up.

I had previously seen two of the films in the series - Bay of Angels and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Lola is a bit of a prequel to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  It was director Jacques Demy's feature film debut.  Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) who has a supporting role in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is young man who gets involved in a smuggling ring in Nantes. He is in love with Lola (Anouk Aimée), a "cabaret dancer" whom he knew many years ago as teenagers.  Lola is waiting for her love, Michel (Jacques Harden) who is the father of young son.  Rounding out the list of suitors is Frankie (Alan Scott), an American sailor stationed nearby.  Nantes is on France's Atlantic coast.

In typical Demy fashion, the character interact with each; some unaware of the others' acquaintance.  The effect is amusing and sometimes enlightening.  Supporting characters include teenage Cécile (Annie Dupéroux) and her mother (Elina Labourdette) who are friendly with Roland and Frankie.

Anouk Aimée is stunningly sexy as Lola.  Demy bathes the film in a lyrical tone but at it's core, Lola is a bittersweet tale of unrequited love.  Roland loves Lola but she doesn't love him; Lola loves Michel but it seems he doesn't love her; etc.  As I would see from the series, Lola is the first film in a continuum of Demy films which re-explores the general theme of the harsh realities of life intruding on fairy tale endings Hollywood feeds us.

Model Shop updates us on the life of Lola.  Aimée reprises the role but the action has been moved to Los Angeles.  Demy paints LA in a grayer tone than any of the French cities from his films which gives Model Shop a darker edge than French films.  All his films have a "rotten at the core" motif but Model Shop reflects that sentiment in its visuals unlike his French films.

Gary Lockwood plays George, an unemployed man with an aspiring actress girlfriend who breaks up with him near the beginning of the film.  He is behind on the payments of his sportscar and needs immediate cash to avoid it getting repossessed.  Driving around LA looking to borrow money from friends, George spots a beautiful woman (Aimée).  He follows her and discovers she works as a model in a sleazy photo studio.  You rent the camera and take photos of the models in lingerie.

Lola and George hit it off and they have a one-night stand.  Lola updates the audience on her backstory although how she made her way to LA is omitted.  Lola is about to return to France.  George has recently discovered he is being drafted in the Army and likely sent to Vietnam.  They promise to keep in touch but the ending indicates that is impossible.

Model Shop is very much a Demy film in plot and implications but it lacks all the fairy tale qualities of his French works.  It's as if they made a foreign film in LA and tried to adapt it for topical subjects of the time - Vietnam War, disillusionment and the sprawling metropolis of the City of Angels.  Model Shop was a very good film; it didn't feel like a Demy film and seems dated 45 years later.  Films from the 1960s suffer the worst in terms of outdatedness.

The Young Girls of Rochefort stars Catherine Deneuve and her sister Françcoise Dorléac who would die in a car accident less than three months after the film was released.  Deneuve and Dorléac plays twin sisters Delphine and Solange, respectively.  The film is a dizzying, pastel drenched melange of subplots.  The carnival has come to town and the twins flirt with the carnies (including George Chakiris).  Their mother (Danielle Darrieux) runs a très chic cafe in the town square.  That cafe is something to behold - glass enclosed, brightly lit with sunlight, white floors and light blue tables.  The cafe stays in my memory six months after seeing the film.  Anyway, the mother pines away for her true love who left town because of his embarrassing last name - Dame.

Michael Piccoli is Simon Dame who improbably has returned to town, has never ventured into that beautiful cafe and runs a music store which Solange frequents.  Dame is equally anxious to meet his former love.  I guess it was harder to find people before the internet.  Gene Kelly shows up as Dame's buddy and Solange's mentor/romance.  Delphine has appears to be an art gallery owner's mistress.  There's a French sailor too and I almost forgot, there's a serial killer running around.

As you can imagine, the plot is intricate but really superfluous.  The sisters get to dress up, dance and sing with Chakiris and Kelly and others.  They looks fabulous, they get some laughs and I had a great time.

With Three Seats for the 26th, Demy, in his final film, might have pushed it too far.  Yves Montand plays Yves Montand.  The cinematic Montand has returned to his hometown of Marseilles to mount a stage production based on his life.   Montand's true love was a prostitute named Mylene (Françoise Fabian) whom he met as a young man in Marseilles many years ago.

Meanwhile, Marion (Mathilda May) is a young, aspiring singer who is anxious to see Montand's show.  Unable to buy tickets, she decides to approach him directly, state her admiration and appeal to him directly to give her a ticket.  She sings for him, lands a role in the show and eventually gets her big break.

A third subplot involves Marion's mother (Françoise Fabian) who is a baroness guessed it, the prostitute from Montand's youth.  I'll give you one guess as to the true parentage of Marion.

With intricate plotting, plethora of great musical numbers and Montand's star power, Three Seats for the 26th seems to be in the tradition of The Young Girls of Rochefort.  Montand's show within the show touches on his romance with Marilyn Monroe and marriage to Simone Signoret.

The only part where the wheels fall off is toward the end of the film.  Let's just say that Montand loves his daughter in a non-paternal way.  Did we really need to have that in there?  Montand gets over it pretty quickly.  Marion remains, throughout the film, unaware of her true relationship with Montand.

I didn't enjoy The Pied Piper.  A dark film befitting its source material, The Pied Piper misfires on many levels.  First, Donovan is miscast and if his acting is off, having him sing a folk song is doubly off.  That leads me to the second issues which is that this film looks like a 1970s film.  It didn't look like the Dark Ages, it looked a bunch of actors from the 1970s playing characters from the Dark Ages.  Sometimes the rats looked mechanical as well.

Frankly, I can't remember all the reason I didn't like The Pied Piper.

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