Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
at the Charles Cinema
THE FILMS of Jacques Demy, small variations on a small theme, appear roughly every other year and make no significant contribution whatsoever to world cinema. The prime mover in Demy's light-struck multi-color Disneyland is coincidence, a capricious often fascinating quality, granted, but not one of your big themes--hardly an equivalent to Resnais's concern with time or Lang's with fate. Demy's constructs lack true vision, instead wallow joyously in the mechanical: lovers wander marionette-like (often singing) looking for their true loves, forced by Demy to miss one another by seconds until the romantic pay-off at the finale.
Although Les Demoiselles de Rochefort spends most of its time chronicling the happy anguish of would-be lovers, and Demy heightens an already infectious gaiety by literally painting the town, reminders of reality pervade the film. A distant war threatens the autonomy of Maxence (Jacques Perrin), an artist searching for Catherine Deneuve; most unusual, friendly M. Dutrouz turns out to be a psychotic killer who has sliced his beloved into sections of varying shapes and sizes and stuffed her into a trunk. But even these mystifying inclusions cannot destroy the sweep of Demy's happy rhapsody (as he well knows), and only comment on the tenacity of romantic loves and the indestructible wonder of those who abandon themselves to it.
If nothing else, Demoiselles has abandoned itself to love and chance, casting aside the restraint that characterizes the form and color of Demy's previous Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, a strangely gloomy film marked more than anything else by ugly purple wallpaper. Shot in primary colors which contrast with dominant whites (not unlike Godard's Le M*epris), Demoiselles is less a synthetic than Cherbourg because of its reliance on apparently natural light sources and location sets. A ubiquitous sunlight links the interiors to the outdoor shots much better than Demy's style is able to do and, as in his Lola and Baie des Anges, shines brightly through the entire film. Demy's style is a strange hybrid. The superb interiors owe much to Godard (Une Femme Est Une Femme, Le Mepris, Pierrot le Fou) and succeed in filling the cinemascope screen with inventive precision; on the other hand, the exteriors are derivative of American films (with shots lifted from Stanley Donen's Singing In The Rain and Nicholas Ray's Party Girl) and don't always work. Demy's Ray like tendency to pull into high angle results too often in his simply being stranded up there without a satisfactory shot to cut to.
THIS critical pecking precedes a confession that this reviewer sat through Demoiselles with a happy idiot grin on his face, intensely pleased to watch beautiful people gaze at one another and sing lines like, "Mais tu es merveilleuse," and "Son profil est celui de ces vierges mythiques qui hantent les musees et les adolescents." Michel Legrand's music (never absent--like Cherbourg, the film is entirely sung) makes much use of half a dozen excellent themes; a ridiculously Rachmanioffy piano concerto and the chanson de Maxence are particularly memorable. Demy's lyrics simple and direct ("Estelle loin d'ici? Est-elle pres de moi? Je n'en sais rien encore mais je sais qu'elle existe.") advancing exposition without heavy reliance on metaphor or fantastic imagery: Solange (Francoise Dorleac) asks her Delphine, "Qu'est-ce que tu as?" and Deneuve sings back bluntly, "Je suis triste et je m'ennuie."
Two West Side Story alumni, George Chakiris and Grover Dale, handle the hard-core dancing and occasional lechery with efficiency, and Jacques Perrin is as fine a romantic innocent as one could hope to see in an age of sophisticated film-making. Michel Piccoli and Danielle Darrieux, two of France's greatest screen stars, walk through their parts with characteristic skill, and Darieux, unlike the rest of the cast, does her own singing. Gene Kelly, his face frozen in its 1953 Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer grin, is wonderfully, incredibly, exciting to watch in action. Deneuve and Dorleac as twins ("toutes deux demoiselles, ayant eu des amants tres tot") reflect the joy with which Demy exercises the cinema's glorious potential to permanently trap on celluloid supremely magnificent women.