Les Demoiselles De Rochefort (AKA: The Young Girls of Rochefort) – 1967
Director – Jacques Demy
Starring – Catherine Deneuve, George Chikiris, Françoise Dorléac, and Gene Kelly
The goal of any movie poster is to filter down all the important elements of the film, the who, what, where, and even sometimes why, and give potential viewers the urge to seek it out later on. There are films that are so enamored with the who, that the poster is nothing but a series of giant heads of famous actors looking vaguely off into the distance (any romantic comedy out in the last 30 years or so). Still other films are so excited to let you know that there is a twist, one that they all but give it away (the instance that springs to mind is the remake of the wonderful Charade, into the terrible The Truth About Charlie. Do yourself a favor and don’t seek out this poster, or the movie till you’ve seen Charade, and maybe not even then.) But this film does a dynamite job of illustrating just what the viewer can expect from this film, best of all their was no condensing necessary either!
Really the poster tells you everything, except for the fact that their isn’t anything else. No captivating story, no dynamic twist, no edge of your seat confrontation, or heartfelt resolution. The story isn’t really what I am going to review here, if the truth be told, it wouldn’t really be fair to judge it solely on its story. It is really more the equivalent of a 1960’s concert film, than it is a movie. So the Young Girls of Rochefort is, how shall we say, a little light on plot, but it more than makes up for it in exuberance, color, and having a few honest to god Gene Kelly numbers in the picture.
The story is thin, but plausible enough to hold a series of dance numbers together, however non-important enough to drop at the end without resolving some of them. The key here seems to be instant gratification. Once you see it, you can forget it in order to watch the next thing. With so much effort put into the set pieces, the color, and the dancing, does a fan of musicals need any other reason to watch? Probably not, but as someone who isn’t all that enamored with musicals, I certainly would have liked more.
The aforementioned Gene Kelly appearance was quite a welcome sight. I really really really really enjoyed Singing In the Rain, and really appreciated An American in Paris to the point where I thought “If all musicals are this good, how have I been so wrong about them my whole life?” (Spoiler alert, I haven’t found all musicals to be worthy of either of those two just yet, although I’m still looking.) No matter how much I like Catherine Deneuve as an actress, she wasn’t given all that much to do in this film. I’m not sure whether she actually sang or if she was lip syncing, but either way, she seemed like just a name and a face tacked onto this film to sell tickets, so Kelly’s appearance midway through the film really got me interested in watching again.
Needless to say, this film was unable to live up to the magic that was “Singing in the Rain”, like a lot of other musicals I fear, was relegated quite quickly in my head as an “also-ran”. No amount of enthusiasm or color usage was going to bring it back up to that level for me.
My wife on the other hand,is someone who enjoys most musicals simply for the fact that they’re musicals. She found quite a lot to like and this film was a joy for her to watch. Despite the limitations I attempted to place on it, it won her over with its energy and determination to be. If for only that one reaction, it was worth it. It was more than worthy of my time, and it also brings to mind other films that I like purely on an aesthetic level. I don’t really need a reason to love “The Man With the Movie Camera”, or appreciate “Un Chien Andalou”, or relentlessly watch all the rather brainless 80’s and 90’s action films that I love so well. None of them have stories (well that’s debatable I suppose, but each of these films is focused on something other than the story), but each has an equally unmatched exuberance,and verve for itself. Each has a determined will to be, despite what others try to pigeonhole them as.
So it is true with “Les Demoiselles De Rochefort”. Though it wasn’t my cup of tea, it was most definitely made for a specific audience, one that loves it just for what it is. But the question remains, “Does it deserve to be on this list?” Ultimately, no. I would say there are other musical and dance films that go further, with more interesting music, more dynamic dance numbers, more story integration to transcend and become more than just a musical. So it may not the best, but in a pinch it’ll cure what ails you.