Les Demoiselles De Rochefort (AKA: The Young Girls of Rochefort) (1967)

Les Demoiselles De Rochefort

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.

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Repulsion (1965)

Repulsion

Repulsion – 1965

Director – Roman Polanski

Starring – Catherine Deneuve

I came to this film knowing nothing at all about it, except for the brief synopsis on the Netflix sleeve.  If you’re going to watch this thriller, I highly recommend doing it the same way that I did.  Going in blind is by far the best way to experience it.  I wasn’t ready in the least for the ride that I was about to go on.

The story is a fairly simple one, a young, attractive, French girl, Carol (Deneuve), lives in London with her sister.  She is very shy, to the point of uncomfortability around men, and she is scared when she is left alone.  Aside from the constant attention she gets from the opposite sex, her neurotic behavior and her fears are elevated by the fact that her sister spends all of her free time giving her attention to her live-in, married boyfriend.

But that is all prologue…the story really gets rolling when Carol’s sister and her boyfriend take a two week trip to Italy, leaving her all alone with her paranoia and fear.  Carol goes from bad to worse, gradually at first, but then by leaps and bounds.  At about the half hour mark I was still feeling a little bit board and having trouble with my attention wandering.  I was sure this was going to be another run of the mill girl fending for herself, but somehow she finds the strength to overcome type story line.  As we got further and further in, the film refused to flinch, and my attention wandered less and less.  Carol’s downward spiral progressed to such a degree that I wondered aloud just how far they were going to take it.  It was at this point that I realized, I was sitting bolt upright, with tense muscles, eyes locked on the screen.  From that point forward, that is how I stayed.

The problem with reviewing a movie like this is that it works best without knowing anything, but when it’s over all you want to talk about is the stuff you can’t talk about without ruining that effect for someone else.  With that in mind, I can’t really talk to much more about the plot without spoiling something the film works really hard for, suffice to say you should definitely check it out.

Shot entirely in black in white with an almost documentary feel, the film really puts us in-between Carol and the rest of the world.  How the camera moves with her and around her is based entirely on how she sees the world.  When she is feeling comfortable and safe, we maintain a nice distance, and are able to watch her interact with those around her.  On the other hand, when she is feeling cornered or paranoid, the camera is right on top of her, shooting her eyes and face in extreme close-up.  Her fear and anxiety radiates from the screen and infects us with an unease.  We are acutely aware of our and her surroundings as we wait for the next delusion, or psychological trap to be sprung.

The set in which we spend most of the movie, is maleable in the later stages of her psychosis.  At times it seems narrow and uncomfortable, almost maliciously crowding us, and at others it is voluminous and filled with strange, uncomfortable shadows.  The bathroom changes from nice, white, tiled bathroom, to blackened, disease ridden, and threatening in a matter of moments.  Basically this warm safe place has the potential to be dangerous and wild at a moment’s notice.  The tone of the apartment is helped tremendously by the glorious high contrast light and shadow world that exists within Carol’s mind.

Roman Polanski chose a relative unknown actress for the lead role, and found in Catherine Deneuve, the perfect red herring.  Seemingly so demure and un-assuming, she really throws herself into this role, and wakes up a hidden monster inside of herself.  Though the supporting actors fill out the rest of the real world nicely, the main attraction is Deneuve giving it her all.

I highly recommend doing what you can to avoid reading about or learning what happens before you see this film, but even if you do know, watch it and enjoy.