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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 4.35%
Average: 26.09%
Pretty Bad: 17.39%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Young Girls of Rochefort, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A near-perfect musical confection."
5 stars

"Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" is the movie musical in perhaps its purest, most joyous form, a fountain of bright colors, catchy tunes, and whimsical coincidences that is just modern enough that one almost expects it to try and justify its lightness. Jacques Demy, thankfully, saw no need to do this; it may have been the turbulent, experimental 1960s elsewhere in the cinema, but this screen offered effervescent entertainment, justified not by some self-referential subtext, but simply by doing what it sets out to do about as well as a movie can.

The two main Young Girls of Rochefort in question are the Garnier twins: Blonde Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) teaches dance and is breaking up with her pretentious artist boyfriend; her red-headed sister Solange (Françoise Dorléac) teaches music in the same studio and would like the local music store's owner, Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli), to share her newest composition with Andrew Miller (Gene Kelly), an American friend from his conservatory days now doing a European tour. Their mother Yvonne (Danielle Darieux) runs a french-fry stand, often serving Maxence (Jacques Perrin), a sailor stationed at the nearby naval base who dreams of being an artist and finding his ideal of feminine beauty. Also setting up camp there are Etienne (George Chakiris) and Bill (Grover Dale), two vagabonds who man a motorcycle company's pavilion at town fairs, but who have just had the two girls who usually do a song and dance up front quit and blow town. What are they to do?

One would think that the pair would be easily replaceable in Rochefort, as musical numbers apparently break out at the drop off a hat there. The film opens with dancing that, owing to the city being accessed via a transport bridge, takes place in mid-air despite standing on a solid platform, as suitable a way to establish its embellished reality without quote entering the realm of fantasy. Once Etienne and Bill make landfall, things keep right on going, with just enough sailors and smartly-dressed ladies wandering the background of any street scene that they don't quite come out of nowhere when a production number starts, and Demy uses the town's big, beautiful square like a stage. And then, just as the audience is staring to take the charm and inventiveness choreographer Norman Maen displays in staging these numbers on location for granted, Gene Kelly shows up, and even if he's a bit past his prime, he still kicks things up to another level.

It's also worth noting that not only are the songs by Michel Legrand generally delightful, the fact that the film was shot in both French and English probably winds up helping the subtitles quite a bit. I never felt the disconnect between sung lines and reading text here that I did during Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and other non-English musicals while watching the French version of the film.

Talking about the film being light and effervescent can give the mistaken impression of something flavorless, when in fact the movie is very funny, too. Demy peppers the script with deliberately corny jokes and silly rhymes, but he also makes Delphine and Solange kind of bratty and sarcastic, and their little brother Booboo a real pain in the neck. There is amusing poking at the fourth wall as people get into position for a number or the sisters refer to "our song", and pop culture references that can still get a laugh almost fifty years later. The last act even gets into some downright dark humor.

Real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac are a huge part of why the film winds up so funny, despite Catherine not necessarily being known for comedy. She gets the be the slightly snarkier one, playing slight snobbiness for laughs and bantering well, whether with her sister or the guys. Françoise, meanwhile, gets to be somewhat goofier, not exactly doing slapstick but certainly playing her part as broader and more physical - she was also the better dancer, although that's kept in reserve until the end. It is a crying shame she died so young. Americans George Chakiris and Grover Dale are cast in large part for their skill as dancers, and don't disappoint there, although they're also sunny counterparts to the slightly aloof ladies, with Dale especially being funny just standing there. There's a great brace of supporting actors as well, from Jacques Perrin as a wistful (but kind of youthfully foolish) Maxence to Danielle Darrieux as the happily busy mother, to Michel Piccoli as the sentimental shopkeeper. Gene Kelly was probably too old for his role and dubbed in some scenes, but gives the film legitimacy without making it heavy.

Seeing them just a couple of weeks apart certainly highlights how, in many ways, this is a lighter film from the same template as Lola, complete with obvious connections, reunions, near-misses, and some characters fated to wind up unmatched (although it's not the crushing experience for them that it may be for others). It's also got some of the same plot holes - for as open as characters are about their histories, you'd think some of the important details would have been shared so as to raise flags in 1967. But, perhaps, that is not so important compared to the world and feeling that Demy and his collaborators create.

It's a wonderful world, and it's no surprise to see in Agnes Varda's twenty-fifth anniversary documentary that the city of Rochefort embraced the picture as few places do. It's a sheer delight, even for those of us that don't necessarily like musicals unless they are done this well.

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originally posted: 12/30/14 12:10:17
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User Comments

11/26/15 David H. One of the joyous and entertaining musicals ever made. 5 stars
2/12/11 Studio If you don't love this film, the terrorists have won. 5 stars
7/28/06 Joy I really love this film. 5 stars
2/20/02 Xaver Not as good as Cherbourg, but springingly fun to watch. 4 stars
12/28/01 Joshua Ziemkowski While not as good as Umbrellas of Cherbourg, this film is outstanding. 5 stars
11/07/00 Anders The greatest musical ever made 5 stars
12/30/98 House of Chrisp My favourite film! Joy captured on celluloid. Don't like French people singing? Dont see it 5 stars
12/29/98 Schizofrenic Moronic. Blows. 2 stars
12/05/98 Shadow Raider Eep. Not my style or personality whatsoever. Definitely not my stuff. 2 stars
9/14/98 Como Erectus Not my thing. 2 stars
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  11-Apr-1968 (G)

  N/A (PG)

  02-Nov-1998 (G)

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