director Jacques Demy
The Young Girls of Rochefort is probably a wonderful companion piece to director Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). I say “probably” only because it’s now been five years since I saw the earlier film, as much as I liked it, it would be nice to draw more comparative points out than I can.
Both films are musicals, uniquely French, beautifully shot and constructed, both starring Catherine Deneuve. The Young Girls of Rochefort is perhaps a bit more like a classic musical than the other in that there are songs and dance numbers connected by regular scenes of dialogue that are non-musical. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg featured a fully “sung” script, but with no specific “songs” per se. They are both lovely films.
The Young Girls of Rochefort also features Gene Kelly, singing in French and adding a panache to the dance sequences that they would otherwise not have. It’s an interesting style in which the film is shot, with lots of fluid camera movement and pacing, but filmed in the naturalistic setting of the town in the sunlight. And while the dance numbers are choreographed, they are not the meticulous perfection that a typical American musical might be. It made me wonder what Kelly thought of this production while on set.
It’s vibrant, colorful, fun stuff, far from taking itself seriously, and yet full of verve and energy. I also wondered about how the film appeared in 1960’s France. Were these songs and scenes considered a truly contemporary thing or some odd throwback of sorts. Does this film capture a zeitgeist or create its own?
It’s an interesting question to me because watching it now, it’s an artifact from another time and place, a fantasy of charm and dream and whimsy. It doesn’t necessarily call for context. It’s fine as it is. But in the mid to late 1960’s the film is a sort of apolitical splash of joie de vivre. How did it play in its day?
I think I preferred it to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, though I liked them both. They seem the apt pairing. Charming, lovely stuff.