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The Young Girls of Rochefort (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on August 17, 2014

My fiancée and I have been watching a lot of “The West Wing” lately.  Listening to Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue can often be annoying as his particular writing tics become more and more evident.  It then has the unwelcome side effect of making me think of my own writing tics.  For instance, almost every review I write contains one or more of the following words: “interesting”, “intriguing”, “compelling” or “engaging”.  All of which I use to say “something that held my attention”.  It’s totally lazy.  I use them pretty much interchangeably, although usually if I throw “intriguing” in there, it also means “something that made me think”.

Two other words I fall back on far too frequently are “delight” and “joy” (or variants thereof).  Which just mean “something that put a big goofy grin on my face”.  My second time watching The Young Girls of Rochefort (7 years after the first time) put a big goofy grin on my face, which is to say it was chock full of delight and joy.  In his day, Demy was sometimes written off as being too light, despite the melancholy undercurrents of most of his major works.  Here, he really is at his most joyous (there’s that word again), simply exuberant.  Look how giddy and jubilant they are in this screenshot.

Okay, bad example.  But most of the time, everyone is bursting at the seams with romantic possibilities.  It’s a world where longing is always expressed in delightful (uh huh) songs, where dancing down the street is guaranteed to have a few passersby join in, where a dinner party is held in rhyme and a basketball demonstration is more concerned with pirouettes than shooting baskets.  It’s a world painted in vibrant colors and white sunshine, costumes and streamers and confetti and balloons.

And, as in Lola, it’s a world governed by wild “only in the movies” coincidences and near misses.  In a town where everyone seems to know each other and converge on the same locations, and yet the people that are destined to be together never manage to meet each other.  Yearning, yearning, yearning being teased out until the fateful last minute.  But just so we don’t go away thinking that this is all entirely optimistic and happy endings, let’s not forget the axe murder that delightfully (goddammit) comes out of nowhere.  That was a case of yearning gone sour, and a suggestion that maybe waiting around for the “right” one, a fantasy soulmate, isn’t such a great way to go through life.  It’s not played as a dark note, but it’s there as a little something to chew on.

My first review was positive, but was somewhat dismissive of the film as not being “experimental” enough.  I guess that was important to me at the time, as if a movie can’t just be immensely entertaining without breaking some sort of mold.  And it is immensely entertaining.  My other complaint was that “some of the songs aren’t very distinctive”… which is just nonsense.  While none are as insanely catchy as “Chanson Des Jumelles” (the repeated duet for Deneuve and Dorléac), they’re all wonderful tunes.  Not a dud in the bunch.  And such lively dance, including Gene Kelly and George Chakiris.  Few things are more enjoyable than watching Kelly dance.  Also the script is charming and funny, with a lot of clever wordplay (some of it, I’m sure, lost in translation).

As I’ve been going through Criterion’s Demy set, I’ve been thinking of Lola as my favorite.  This one has jumped to the top, and made me want to explore the director beyond the “essentials”.  The Blu-Ray presentation is gorgeous, although Jonathan Rosenbaum’s essay on the film seems overly concerned with taking childish potshots at Pauline Kael.  Rating: Great (93)


Also on the disc is The Young Girls Turn 25, Agnès Varda’s documentary.  Filmed during the 25th anniversary, where a massive celebration is being held in Rochefort.  Varda’s approach is loose, jumping between the celebration and her own archival behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Deneuve, Legrand, Perrin and various other people associated with the film.  There are some wonderful anecdotes, and a sad moment when Rochefort locations are dedicated to the memories of Demy and Dorléac.  I would have liked to see a little more of Varda’s personal touch, but there’s plenty of that in The Beaches of Agnes, not to mention her semi-biopic Jacquot de Nantes.  And that’s not to say that this doc is cold or impersonal… it’s a loving tribute to a beloved film and the community that embraced it.  Rating: Very Good (82)

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