Plot: What’s it about?
The first film that I saw by Jacques Demy was his 1961 film, Lola. It is also chronologically the first disc in the new Essential Jacques Demy box set by Criterion. This movie was one of the primary reasons that I was originally interested in the box set in the first place. I was drawn to the film when I saw that it had the beautiful Anouk Aimee (La Dolce Vita) as a cabaret dancer. That was reason enough to check it out for me, and I am glad that I did.
Lola is a very interesting film, in that there is not just one protagonist that we follow, but instead a population of characters in the city of Nantes. The movie follows the lives primarily of five different characters. There is Roland (Mark Michel,) who is a bit depressed and put out by his surroundings. Roland can not keep a steady job because he would rather read novels and keep his head in the clouds. There is Lola (Anouk Aimee,) a cabaret dancer that occasionally beds American sailors that remind her of the man who left her pregnant six years before. There is Frankie (Alan Scott,) the American sailor that cares for Lola. There is Madame Desnoyer and her daughter Cecile, both looking to find love in the city. There are other characters from around the town as well such as a restaurant worker and her regular customer who awaits her son’s return, or diamond smuggling store owners. All of these characters will collide in interesting ways that the viewer will enjoy. At the center of all the collisions would be Lola, and that is why Demy must have named the film after that one character.
The film is a fun film to watch because the dialogue is snappy and well written and the characters all seem to act on impulse. All the actors are spot on with Anouk Aimee and Mark Michel running away with the picture. Add to that an awesome jazzy score from Michel Legrand and cool looking black and white cinematography, and you have the makings of a minor classic. Lola may be a film about lonely people, but it sure will make the viewer smile. I highly recommend checking this film out!
Bay of Angels
Have you ever had the experience of dating somebody that seemed to bring you bad luck? Jacques Demy’s Bay Of Angels uses gambling addiction as a way of exploring this issue. The results are extremely profound in my opinion. There are very few films that I have seen where you can see two people headed straight for destruction because of their relationship and still have an enjoyable experience watching the film. I am not afraid to watch(and truly enjoy) a film like Closer, but I feel that a movie like Bay of Angels accomplishes just as much with a ton of nuance and words left unsaid. It was nice to watch a film about romance and addiction and not have every single thing spelled out for me or overly melodramatic.
The plot of the film is rather simple. Jean Fournier (Claude Mann) is a bank clerk. One of his friends, Caron (Paul Guers) turns him on to gambling. When Jean realizes he has a bit of luck on his side he moves out of his father’s apartment in Paris and against his father’s orders heads out to see where luck will lead him. Heading to the casinos along the riviera he meets Jackie (a bottle blonde Jeanne Moreau.) Jean seems to bring Jackie luck at the roulette tables, so they begin their love affair while consuming scotch and playing roulette. All the while Jean’s luck begins to seem to change.
Jacques Demy’s masterpiece Bay of Angels is a film that has everything going for it. The film is cool as hell with breathtaking footage of Monte Carlo, Nice, and the Riviera as its backdrop. It is shot in black and white and looks great. Jeanne Moreau is at her most appealing and sexy and Claude Mann is perfectly cast as Jean. The chemistry between the two is palpable. The writing is pitch perfect, with no wasted lines of dialogue and no filler whatsoever. The movie runs less than ninety minutes and it flies by. Jeanne Moreau is truly amazing in this film and every little gesture she makes is at once sexy, repulsive, and heartbreaking. Michel Legrand’s score is excellent. Demy did an incredible job on this film and I think that any film lover will agree. I can’t wait to watch it again. Check it out!
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
I am going to be forthright before I review this film and the Blu-ray itself. I am not a big fan of musicals. Most of them are a bit melodramatic for my taste, and typically the music might not gel with anything that I find myself listening to in my spare time. For me, the worst parts of all Disney movies are when they burst into song. I just can’t quite get into it. That said, there are some occasions where I can get into it. My wife and I both like Les Miserables pretty well, and I recently saw and enjoyed (for the most part) The Book of Mormon. So, it should come as a surprise that I found myself enjoying The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
The film itself is quite unique. Jacques Demy had just directed Lola and Bay of Angels, which I really admire. As his next project he enlisted the composer Michel Legrand and began to write a musical where every line in the film would be sung. That’s right. Every line. This is either a selling point or the downfall of the film depending on whom you ask. Personally, at first I was a bit annoyed. As the film progressed to around the thirty minute mark, I warmed up to the idea, and by the end of the film I thought it had become pretty effective. My wife in the other hand (who loves musical theatre) could not get into it and gave up after twenty minutes.
The plot of the film is simple. The year is 1957. Guy, a car mechanic with an ailing aunt, loves Genevieve (a stunning Catherine Deneuvre.) Genevieve is a bit young and lives with her mother who owns an umbrella shop. Genevieve’s mother is a bit of a social climber and does not approve of Guy. In order to scrape together some money Genevieve’s mother tries to sell her jewelry, and they both encounter Roland Cassard (Mark Michel) a jewelry dealer who is immediately struck by Genevieve’s beauty. Guy receives some bad news: he has been drafted to fight in Algeria for two years. Genevieve and Guy share a night of passion, and she becomes pregnant. With Guy away, Genevieve’s mother begins to pressure Genevieve to marry Roland.
The film mainly works because of a non traditional storyline that makes sense and preys upon emotions that are normal and heartfelt. People’s actions in the film are realistic from beginning to end, which is hilarious to say about a musical. The other reasons the film is a success are obvious to any viewer. The film is absolutely beautiful. The set design is incredible, with beautiful technicolor pastels and vibrant colors in each scene. The other thing appealing is the music of Michel Legrand that fills each scene. Legrand is great and really gets to show his skills in this film. The acting in the film is great. Catherine Deneuvre is heartbreaking and beautiful and Nino Castelnuovo is great as Guy. Demy pulls off an incredible ending that people will not forget any time soon.
In summary, this is a musical that I can actually get behind. If you aren’t afraid to watch something totally different than the norm, this is good stuff.
The Young Girls of Rochefort
In my review of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg I mentioned that I am not the biggest fan of musicals. Coming off of watching that film and realizing that the next three films would be either musical or fantasy, I was a bit worried as those are my two least favorite genres. Then I popped in The Young Girls of Rochefort and was absolutely stunned.
The film follows numerous characters in the town of Rochefort as they stumble into each other’s lives. There is a fair that has arrived in town with two smooth talking carnies (George Chakiris and Grover Dale.) They stumble upon a cafe where they meet Yvonne Garnier (Danielle Darrieux.) She has two daughters and a young son named Boubou. The men leave to grab Boubou and meet Delphine Garnier (Katherine Deneuvre.) She blows them off so they plan to meet her there the next day. The next day her sister, Solange (Francoise Dorleac) goes to pick up Boubou and meets the two boys. Both sisters dream of leaving Rochefort to try their hand in show business in Paris. Solange is a pianist and Delphine is a dancer. They befriend the two carnies and agree to put on a show. Meanwhile, Solange meets a composer (Gene Kelly) by chance and falls in love, while Delphine breaks up with her art dealer boyfriend to seek out a young sailor (Jacques Perrin) who has drawn her portrait.
As you can tell, the plot is similar to a Shakespearean Much Ado About Nothing romance. Characters will collide until they find their partners. What separates this film from other musicals is how much effort Demy put into every detail in working with his long term set designer Bernard Evein. The film is a joy to behold. Every corner of the city was repainted in beautiful pastel colors and there is always something happening in every corner of every frame. It is almost indecent to describe what should only be seen. This was the best looking of any Demy film. The acting is great, with Catherine Deneuvre and Gene Kelly stealing every scene they touch. On top of that, the music by Michel Legrand’s is excellent. Unlike The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, this film has dialogue between the songs, which I find a bit more comfortable. I was shocked to find how much I enjoyed the film. The only sad bit is that the young actress who played Solange would die just months after filming in an accident.
I am not the perfect person to review a film like this. As much as I have a fondness for The Labyrinth, and enjoy Game of Thrones, fantasy is easily my least favorite of all genres. For some reason it just doesn’t appeal to me, and Donkey Skin did not change that sensibility in me.
Donkey Skin is bizarre, even for a fantasy story. A king (Jean Marais) makes a solemn vow to his dying queen that he will not remarry until he meets somebody as beautiful as her. After the queen’s death he sends his daughter away, as it is just too painful to be reminded of his wife’s beauty. The daughter (Catherine Deneuvre) grows up and is very beautiful. Looking out a window, the king sees her and falls in love with her. Seeing that she is more beautiful than the deceased queen he decides to marry his daughter. Frightened of the thought of marrying her father, the princess turns to her fairy godmother (Delphine Seyrig) for advice. She recommends asking for ridiculous gifts of fantastic dresses before consenting to marriage, which culminates in asking for the skin of the king’s prized donkey that craps out treasure. Wearing the skin as a disguise she heads into the country with a magic wand to live a life of solitude as a scullery maid. While living this life of solitude, a young prince sees her in one of her beautiful dresses through a window of her hut and falls in love with her. He then plots for how to marry the scullery maid.
So…. Based on that plot, you should be able to tell if Donkey Skin is for you. It just wasn’t my deal.
Une Chambre en Ville
Use Chambre en Ville was the dream project of Jacques Demy that he had wanted to film for a decade. For him, it was a way of telling a tragic story and of telling a story about Union strikes in his hometown of Nantes growing up. He also thought that the best way to express these ideas would be to have people sing every single line of dialogue as he had done in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with solid results. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this mixture just does not work well.
Francois Guilbaud is a union worker. At the beginning of the film we see him leading a strike and being stared down by police. As the police begin to send out tear gas, Guilbaud enters the room he rents from a formerly rich baroness (Danielle Darrieux.) She is upset because while he is on strike he can’t pay the rent. Guilbaud leaves to go spend time with his girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon) and doesn’t have the courage to break up with her. Meanwhile, the baroness’s daughter Edith (Dominique Sanda) is having a marital spat with her husband Edmond (Michel Piccoli.) In revenge she walks the streets in only a fur coat looking for companionship and she finds it with Guilbaud. All of this will come to head in tragic violent form.
Whereas the experiment of singing every line worked in the beautiful The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with music by Michel Legrand, the experiment falls flat in the hands of composer Michel Colombier. It is obvious that Demy believed in this project with all of his soul, and some people love it. I just found myself bored and irritated, and relieved when there was bloodshed and the credits rolled.
Video: How’s it look?
The video for this film received some low marks on some other reviews that I checked. Personally, I thought that they were incorrect to judge the look of the film so harshly. There are some times where detail in the background seems to be washed out, and sometimes it can look a bit unnatural. This is all due to the fact that the film itself’s original negative was destroyed in a fire. The film was shot by Demy with cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s (Le Mepris) help. Coutard is definitely one of my favorite cinematographers at this point, and he does not disappoint here. Overall, I think they did a solid job on the transfer given the parameters they were working in.
Bay of Angels
This is an extremely competent transfer from Criterion. They gave the film the treatment that it deserved. The film retains a good amount of detail and looks absolutely stunning for the most part. That said, there are some times where detail in the background seems to be washed out (most notably on the scenes on the beach.) The film was shot by Demy with cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s (Le Mepris) help. The results are absolutely stunning. Overall, I can’t think of any reason why people would not love the visuals on display here.
Umbrellas of Cherbourg
The transfer of the film is excellent. Color reproduction is loud and proud. The movie looks fantastic from the beginning to the end, with very little to complain about at all. Demy was intent on filling up each scene with so much to look at and the film is visually off the charts. I have nothing to complain about here at all. Criterion should feel very good about this transfer!
The Young Girls of Rochefort
Wow. This 4K transfer is incredible. The colors burst off of the screen and fine detail is some of the best I have seen on any Blu-ray release. This is the best looking of the releases in this collection, and looks as good as more recent films by Wes Anderson. Get ready to be absolutely blown away by this transfer. Bernard Evein’s set design deserved to be seen on Blu-ray.
This is the least interesting looking of the Demy films to my sensibilities. There is nothing really wrong with the transfer, but the movie itself looks dated to my eyes. There are some noticeably soft scenes on the Blu-ray, but certain scenes look incredible (most notably when they move the queen’s body in the snow.) I was not as impressed with the look of this film as the others.
Une Chambre en Ville
This is not Demy’s best looking film, but the transfer itself is very good. Color grading and restoration were applied to the film and it benefitted heavily from the assistance. It is safe to say that this is the best that this film has ever looked. Most impressive are the scenes of rioting in the street, with hundreds of extras in front of a Cathedral in Nantes. Fans will be happy.
Audio: How’s it sound?
This French mono track is very solid for the most part. There is nothing bad to report whatsoever in this department although dynamic range is limited as you would expect. The dialogue has the same charm as Bay of Angels and sounds crystal clear. Michel Legrand’s jazzy little score sounds great here. I was humming the theme song for days after watching the film!
Bay of Angels
Similar to the video, this French mono track is very high quality. There is nothing bad to report whatsoever in this department although dynamic range is limited as you would expect. Dialogue is incredibly clear and crisp and Michel Legrand’s score sounds wonderful. The results are similar to the excellent treatment that Criterion gave La Dolce Vita, which I consider the highest compliment to a film roughly the same age.
Umbrellas of Cherbourg
This French DTS-HD 5.1 surround track is very solid. The choice to use the original stereo recordings and turn them into 5.1 surround pays off very well. The range is still limited, and will not blow away people that are used to Michael Bay films, but for everybody else, it sounds great. This is the best way that I think they could have produced a track from Michel Legrand’s recordings. It’s great.
The Young Girls of Rochefort
The Young Girls of Rochefort has an extremely solid DTS-HD 5.1 surround track. They did an excellent job of transferring from the original recordings made of Michel Legrand’s music. There is not a lot of directionality from what is seen on screen, but the track allows the music to really breathe and fill a room. Beautifully realized.
I found Donkey Skin’s new DTS-HD 5.1 track underwhelming. I honestly thought that it was just a 2.0 track and was shocked to see otherwise. That isn’t to say that the track has any problems. The music by Michel Legrand’s sounds very good and there are no problems with the track like distortions or audio drops. It just didn’t wow me like some of the other tracks.
Une Chambre en Ville
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track sounds very good. Fidelity is excellent and clarity is very strong. Obviously it is not extremely immersive, but it sounds exactly as they had designed it to sound. Nobody will complain about the treatment this track has received from Criterion.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Trailer – original trailer for the 2012 restoration of Lola. In French and English, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (2 min, 1080p).
- Anouk Aimee – a very short recollection of her time filming Lola. In French, with optional English subtitles. (4 min, 1080p).
- Lola’s Song – Agnes Varda recalls how she wrote C’est Moi, C’est Lola. In French, with optional English subtitles. (4 min, 1080p).
- Les Horizons Morts (1951) – Jacques Demy’s first short film. A bit of a dud in my opinion. He came a long way! Music only. (9 min, 1080i).
- Le sabotier du Val de Loire (1956) – Jacques Demy’s second short film is about a week in the life of an elderly clog maker. This was pretty darn good. Well worth watching. In French, with optional English subtitles. (24 min, 1080i).
- Ars (1959) – a short film about a very puritanical priest who lived in the village of Ars. Interesting and worth your time, although probably only worth watching once. In French, with optional English subtitles. (17 min, 1080i).
- La Luxure (1962) – Demy directed this short film starring Jean-Louis Trintignant for the omnibus The Seven Deadly Sins in 1962, between Lola and Bay of Angels. This is pretty funny and a bit risqué. Music by Michel Legrand. In French, with optional English subtitles. (15 min, 1080p).
- Restoration Demonstration – this shows how the film was digitally restored in 2012 in California. This is pretty interesting and shows many of the challenges they faced specifically with restoring Lola. In French, with optional English subtitles. (10 min, 1080p).
Bay of Angels
- Trailer – original trailer for the recent restoration of Bay of Angels. In French, with optional English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
- Cinepanorama – an interesting interview with Jeanne Moreau at the peak of her powers in 1963. This is decidedly French. The questions border on invasive. Really entertaining. In French, with optional English subtitles. (14 min, 1080p).
- Marie Colmant – journalist Marie Colmant, coauthor of the book Jacques Demy, discusses the sirector’s career and love for strong female characters. I like this feature, but it is not anything too special. In English, not subtitled. (11 min, 1080p).
- Restoration Demonstration – this shows how the film was digitally restored in 2012. Really neat to see. In French, with optional English subtitles. (6 min, 1080p).
Umbrellas of Cherbourg
- Trailer – trailer for the new restoration of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. In French, with imposed English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
- Once Upon a Time… The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – this is a very enjoyable documentary about the production of the film. Watching the documentary made me enjoy the film even more and enhanced my viewing of the film. The archival footage of Demy is great and Michel Legrand is charming as hell. Well worth your time. The documentary also appears on StudioCanal’s release. In English and French, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (55 min, 1080p).
- Rodney Hill – Rodney Hill tries to place Demy in the same canon as the other new wave directors with mixed results. Worth watching and debating. The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2014. In English, not subtitled. (23 min, 1080p).
- Cinepanorama – an archival interview with director Jacques Demy and legendary composer Michel Legrand. Worth watching. In French, with optional English subtitles. (12 min, 1080p).
- Michel Legrand at the National Film Theatre – a long and interesting conversation with Michel Legrand. The only down side is that it is audio only. In English, not subtitled. (27 min, 1080p).
- Catherine Deneuve at the National Film Theatre – a short and sweet talk with the actress. Also only in audio unfortunately. In English, not subtitled. (12 min, 1080p).
- Restoration Demonstration -a look at the restoration of the film. In French, with optional English subtitles. (7 min).
The Young Girls of Rochefort
- Trailer – original trailer for the 2K restoration of The Young Girls of Rochefort. In French, with optional English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
- Cinema – a pretty neat look into the creative process of Demy and Michel Legrand. In French, with optional English subtitles. (11 min, 1080p).
- Jean-Pierre Bethome and Jacqueline Moreau – costume designer Jacqueline Moreau, the wife of production designer Bernard Evein, talks to film scholar Jean-Pierre Berthome about working with Demy throughout his career. This is very solid and worth watching if you have any interest in the set and costume designs of the films (which are incredible.) The conversation was recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2013. In French, with optional English subtitles. (26 min, 1080p).
- Behind the Screen – an awesome look at Bernard Evein as he worked on The Young Girls of Rochefort. In French, English, and Dutch, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (35 min, 1080p).
- The Young Girls Turn 25 – an in depth full length documentary by Agnes Varda. Good stuff. The Young Girls Turn 25 was restored in 2K by Digimage in 2013. Agnes Varda supervised the color grading. In French, with optional English subtitles (67 min, 1080p).
- Pour le cinema – a good feature where Demy explains his attraction to this project. In French, with optional English subtitles. (12 min, 1080p).
- “Donkey Skin” Illustrated – only of interest if you want to see various iterations of the original fairy tale. In French, with optional English subtitles. (12 min, 1080p).
- “Donkey Skin” and the Thinkers – this was the worst feature out of all of the disks. Skip this. The discussion was filmed in 2008. In French, with optional English subtitles. (17 min, 1080i).
- Jacques Demy at the American Film Institute – excerpted audio recordings from 1971 of a long form discussion with Demy. In English, not subtitled. (43 min).
Une Chambre en Ville
- Trailer – original trailer for the new restoration of Une Chambre en Ville. In French, with optional English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
- Restoration Demonstration – a pretty cool feature on the restoration. In French, with optional English subtitles. (6 min, 1080p).
- The World of Jacques Demy – Agnes Varda’s 1995 documentary about the life and career of Jacques Demy. This was really good and worth my time. Great special feature! The film was restored in 2K by Digimage-Classics in 2013. In French, with optional English subtitles. (92 min, 1080p).
- Jacques Demy, A to Z – an extremely interesting visual essay about Jacques Demy. Great stuff. The essay was created by film scholar James Quandt in 2014. In English, not subtitled. (62 min, 1080p).
- Jacques Demy at the Midnight Sun Film Festival – Demy discussing his career in 1987. Very charming interview. In French and Finnish, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (17 min, 1080i).
- Booklet – an illustrated booklet featuring essays by critics Ginette Vincendeau, Terrence Rafferty, Jim Ridley, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Anne E. Duggan, and Geoff Andrew, and a postscript by Berthomé.
The Bottom Line
The box set by Criterion of the essential films by Jacques Demy is impressive as anything that they have released as far as technical merits go. They have put an incredible amount onto these six disks. All in all you get six Demy films, two Agnes Varda documentaries, 4 Demy shorts, and an incredible wealth of supplemental interviews. I hesitate to give it as high a recommendation as some box sets, simply because I was not crazy about Donkey Skin or Une Chambre en Ville. The other four films are great. For my personal taste, Bay of Angels and Lola make this box set worth owning and the rest is just bonus in comparison. Also, these box sets sell fairly cheap on Amazon and Ebay ($40) and come in Dual Format (you get DVD copies as well) representing a significant bargain. I hope I have listed enough information to give you a fair shake on if this set is the right one for you to purchase!