Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)

“Paris is small for great passion like us.”

‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’, directed by Jacques Demy in 1967, is a romantic musical set in a French southwestern seaside town. Two sisters are looking for love and, through a series of musical interludes, they encounter a host of suitors including an American played by Gene Kelly. Kelly’s involvement is the key to this movie. This is an extension of Godard’s obsession of combining American genre forms with postmodern twists. In ‘Rochefort’, the genre is big budget, elaborately  choreographed musical, the kind that Kelly made a career out of.  The music is at the centre of the film and is decorated by brightly coloured costumes, rich, sunny cinematography and stylised performances. There’s also a touch of the French New Wave fourth-wall breaking: characters look straight down the camera and there are also references to other movies such as ‘Jules et Jim’. My first thought was that this similar to Luis Buñuel, in both its clean visual style but also in its touch of surrealist juxtapositions as the town appears to be occupied by transient circus workers, and formal troops of passing soldiers and sailors. It creates a fantasy world in which the musical interludes are perfectly placed, moments of choas and creation alongside the khaki formality. It’s this genre and narrative that Věra Chytilová’s ‘Daisies’ parodied the year before, and in fact the similarities are striking if coincidental. Chytilová’s film also has two girls looking for love and encountering a variety of men, but while the Czech film pulled in the direction of the experimental, ‘Rochefort’ pulled it back towards the easily digestible and populist. It’s a grand confection, a stylised and colourful fantasy and the first film I’ve seen with Gene Kelly. All in all it’s been a breath of fresh air before returning to Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it would make an interesting double bill with either ‘Bande à part’ (another film with love and dancing at its centre) or, more interestingly, ‘Daisies’.

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