Jacques Demy's tribute to Hollywood musicals, THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967; restored by Demy's widow, Agnes Varda, in 1998), breezes by amusingly until it collapses under its own weight; the results are a bit like eating too much ice cream sundae. Two of the young girls of Rochefort, France, are the fraternal Garnier twins, blonde Delphine (Catherine...read more
Jacques Demy's tribute to Hollywood musicals, THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967; restored by Demy's widow, Agnes Varda, in 1998), breezes by amusingly until it collapses under its own weight; the results are a bit like eating too much ice cream sundae.
Two of the young girls of Rochefort, France, are the fraternal Garnier twins, blonde Delphine (Catherine Deneuve), a ballet dancer, and redheaded Solange (Francoise Dorleac), a serious composer. The sisters support themselves by giving music and dancing lessons, but they long for fame, fortune,
and romance, planning to realize their dreams in Paris. Meanwhile, they help their unmarried mother, Madam Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux), the cafe owner of the town square, by taking their baby brother, Boubou (Patrick Jeantet) to and from school.
The little port town becomes galvanized over a weekend when the annual fair attracts outsiders, including Etienne (George Chakiris) and Bill (Grover Dale), two boat and motorcycle salesmen who arrive early to set up their booths. When their female assistants leave them for sailors in town, Etienne
and Bill call on the Garnier sisters to replace them in their musical stage act, promising to take them to Paris after the show.
Delphine and Solange perform for enthusiastic crowds, but offstage they rue their romantic dilemmas. Although Delphine is pursued by both Etienne and an older gallery owner, Guillaume (Jacques Riberolles), she dreams of meeting the young painter who has painted her portrait--without ever having
seen her--that hangs in Guillaume's gallery. Although that painter, a sailor named Maxence (Jacques Perrin), resides in Rochefort, he continues to just miss meeting Delphine, the woman of his dreams. Solange, meanwhile, flirts with Bill and a music shop owner, Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli), but her
heart yearns for a visiting tourist (Gene Kelly) she bumps into on the street.
Fortunately, Solange discovers that the tourist is Andy Miller, a famous American composer she had hoped to meet and audition for in Paris. Yvonne, likewise, discovers that Simon Dame, her lover from many years ago, is living in the town and had been hoping to see her again, too. Finally, Delphine
leaves her sister (with Andy) and the town behind to travel to Paris with Etienne and the company, but on the way, they pick up a hitchhiking, recently discharged sailor--Maxence! Finally, the dreamy lovers are united.
THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT begins promisingly with a jazz dance number featuring Etienne, Bill, and the troupe arriving in town over a waterway. Here and throughout the film, Demy deftly uses the widescreen and color camerawork to joyfully capture the young dancers. Demy also makes numerous
witty references to both American musicals and French New Wave films, including AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951), FUNNY FACE (1957), JULES AND JIM (1961), and Demy's own earlier hits, LOLA (1961) and THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964). (YOUNG GIRLS was initially planned as a sequel to the all-singing
modern opera, UMBRELLAS.)
But for all its charms (and their are many from the talented cast), THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT can't help but disappoint both fans and detractors of the genre. For those who enjoy the old Gene Kelly musicals, YOUNG GIRLS only adequately recreates the highly stylized look and sound of the
originals, mainly because Demy's clean, pastel-hued visual design never varies, and because Michel Legrand's score also becomes repetitious, even bland (the foolishness of Demy's lyrics, however, can only be viewed as part of the intended camp of the piece). The biggest disappointment comes from
the sheer excess of songs and dances that resemble the lower-budget French "video jukebox" Scopitones of the era (where more was done with much less). Even Gene Kelly, dancing in the streets, looks a little uncomfortable with the sub-par material.
For those who never liked characters breaking into song at the drop of chapeau, YOUNG GIRLS barely revises the generic motifs in any meaningful way and never deconstructs the genre in the manner of Jean-Luc Godard's A WOMAN IS A WOMAN (1961). If anything, YOUNG GIRLS seems just as backward in its
approach to race and gender issues as its forebears. And what would Godard think of the consumerist Honda motorcycle ad at the heart of the film? Demy refers to sexual matters and adds a layer of dark concern (in a subplot about a town murderer), but, for the most part, THE YOUNG GIRLS OF
ROCHEFORT strains for escapism at a time in cinema history (and French history) when such a stance could be considered downright irresponsible.
The film was nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for Best Music Score. Included are the following Legrand-Demy musical collaborations: "Arrivee des Camionneurs," "Le Pont Transbordeur," "Chanson de Maxence," "Chanson de Delphine a l'Ancien," "Marins, Amis, Amants ou Maris,"
"Chanson de Simon," "La Femme Coupee en Morceaux," "Chanson d'un Jour d'ete," "Andy Amoureux," "Chanson des Jumelles," "Chanson d'Andy," "Chanson de Solange," "Chanson de Delphine," "Nous Voyageons de Ville en Ville," "Chanson d'Yvonne," "De Hambourg a Rochefort," "Dans le Port de Hambourg," "Les
Recontres," "Toujours Jamais," "Kermesse," and "Depart des Camionneurs."
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