Written by Marie-Sylvette Boré
When I came to study in York, some friends asked me what my favourite French movie was? The answer appears almost like thunder: Jacques Demy’s movies! Well, that’s not easy to say as the French cinema is a vast, still uncharted world (indeed, I assure you there is still something to explore in French cinema). But here is this: I asked myself, what was your first cinema souvenir from when you were a little girl?
Jacques Demy was born in 1931 in Ponchâteau he spent his childhood near Nantes. As a young boy, he was already passionate about performative art and magic – as cinema may seem to be – at the age of 4, he created a little puppet theatre. At 9, the little Jacques had a small cinema projector. In his free time when he was a teenager, he studied at Les Beaux-arts in Nantes. At the end of his secondary studies, Jacques Demy is certain: he will work in and for the cinema. His father didn’t object to this decision.
Jacques met his future colleagues at the Beaux-arts and started new student life in Paris in 1949. He will study at the ETPC, a school of photography and cinema technics, crucial for his future career. In the early 1960s, after some short movies, Jacques Demy directed his first movie of a trilogy: Lola.
Yet, the essential part to understand Demy’s work, Lola, was his first feature with the composer Michel Legrand. This man will change the way you think about film music. Together, they are two sides of the same coin. Jacques Demy without Michel Legrand’s music is tasteless. It’s like getting back to silent cinema after discovering Wizard of Oz (the first film in Technicolor). After Lola, Michel Legrand will work on all Demy’s movies. He will write the lyrics and compose the songs played in his musicals.
Now let’s talk about our main aim here : Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. (The Young Girls of Rochefort) It was the fifth movie that Demy had directed. At this time, he was already well-known for his colourful musicals, as his last film, Les Parapluie de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) was running for the Oscars in 1964. This movie is the second collaboration with the leading actress Catherine Deneuve. But in this one, she shared the screen with her confident best friend, the actress Françoise Dorléac, her sister.
In Les Demoiselles, Catherine Deneuve (Delphine Garnier) is playing the twin sister of Françoise Dorléac (Solange Garnier), together they have a little brother (Boubou) and live under the same roof giving music and dance classes to young children in Rochefort. The film was shot simultaneously in French and English. The actress playing the mother of the two sisters, Danielle Darrieux, is the only undubbed actress for the singing. Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac trained for a few months took dance classes in London and then joined choreographer Norman Maen and British ballet dancers. Jacques Demy wrote the lyrics of the songs in alexandrines, which made it very difficult for Michel Legrand to introduce diversity when setting the images to music. He also wrote the birthday dinner scene in alexandrines, which is an anthology scene.
Les Demoiselle de Rochefort is a comedy that will enhance your most hidden love for fancy costumes and kitsch aesthetic in cinema. Jacques Demy pays homage to Hollywood musicals, of which he is a great admirer. Gene Kelly’s role in the film appears as a personal dedication to the movie that enchanted Demy’s imagination: Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris, and many of Fred Astair’s movies as well.
Watching Les Demoiselles de Rochefort is a cure for gloom and boredom, so plug in your speakers, turn it up, and dance as you’ll never stop!
Written by Marie-Sylvette Boré