At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (Criterion)

By • Jun 15th, 2017 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

I must have missed it in the front titles. When Gene Kelly leaped into the fray at the
45-minute point, my jaw dropped. Not only a tribute to Hollywood musicals, which Demy loved, but one of the two pre-eminent stars of the genre, insinuating himself gracefully into this decidedly French enterprise, flashing that Gene Kelly smile over and over, nimbly treating the Rochefort streets as he would an elaborate studio set, incorporating some of his tried and true dancing tropes, and looking just great. Demy tried to coax him into directing some or all of the choreography, but he only committed to three weeks of dancing. They could have used his input. An air of liberated joy permeates the film, but a few of the numbers are underwhelming, including the final duet in red by Catherine and Francoise.

Michelle Piccoli does a step or two, and a wonderful song, and it’s so much fun to see him in this role, particularly since I’ve never been able to get LA GRANDE BOUFFE out of my mind. In Agnes Varda’s terrific documentary he discuses his anxiety about dancing with people like Gene Kelly involved, but of course he was just fine.

There’s no separating fact from fiction with YOUNG GIRLS, even after fifty years. Francoise Dorleac died within months after the film opened. So this is a sincere and heart-breaking record of her performing with her sister (and they play sisters). They appeared in two other films together, but this is such an elaborate demonstration of their talents, I couldn’t stop ruminating over it. Demy insisted that Dorleac, despite her formal dance training, be the singer of the duo (though dubbed by Claude Parent), and that Deneuve, who had no formal training in dance, essay that aspect of the story. Dorleac does get to do a spirited dance in act three with Kelly, which I have to assume she must have loved. Nothing about that in the Varda doc, but some great B&W footage of Kelly on location.

Because this film presents a classic fish out of water story – not so much the narrative as the production – it’s very precious. Unfortunately I was no more enchanted by the nature of the color imagery than I was with THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, Demy’s previous musical. Which is not to say that the color wasn’t fancifully successful. It was. But a Technicolor look is never achieved. If you went to the trouble to court Gene Kelly, then you wanted Technicolor. Technicolor was kicking around till 1974, so it was attainable, though more costly and time-consuming to use than the alternatives. I write it off either to budgetary constraints, the chosen film stock, or inadequacies in the lab. Or all three.

The story has a comic Shakespearian structure – lovers getting mixed up, pursued by the wrong person, missing their intended partner by a few frames…and finally all is well that ends well as they find the loves of their lives in musical heaven. The girls are great together, Catherine is her cool yet engaging self, Francoise is jubilant and out-going. The periodic close-ups are treasures. Francoise, the older of the two at 26, looks quite a bit older – perhaps a reflection of her social life? Catherine, at 22, is made of smooth porcelain.

I didn’t much care for Jacques Perrin as a sailor/painter in town looking for his soul-mate. I did like seeing Academy Award Winner George Chakiris, several years up the road from WEST SIDE STORY, having a ball whirling around those Rochefort streets and cafes.

Demy died in 1990, aged 59. He missed appearing in his wife’s 25th anniversary doc, but is fondly remembered. It’s a great time-piece, not so much because of its documentary filmmaking skill, but because of all the on-set footage captured two-and-a-half decades earlier, and the decision to interview townspeople as well as cast and crew-members in the updated portions.

Every time we see a 1992 shot of Ms. Deneuve, we know exactly what she’s thinking. It’s pretty emotional. They’ve named a street after her sister.

This Criterion package goes well beyond the film itself and presents us with copious amounts of subtext lurking between the frames.

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