THE ESSENTIAL JACQUES DEMY
Review by Ed Nguyen and Michael Jacobson
Director: Jacques Demy
Features: See Review
Length: 573 Minutes
Release Date: July 22, 2014
"Mais mon amour, ne me quittez pas!"
Of course, Demy made more than just musicals...his films created emotional, real worlds that included even fairy tales like Donkey Skin. The Essential Jacques Demy, a remarkable set of 6 Blu-rays and 7 DVDs, encompasses six of his most memorable and beloved works of art.
Of the six, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (a.k.a. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) is the most widely known and arguably the greatest. The film became an international fairytale sensation upon its initial release, winning the Grand Prize at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival and earning five Academy Award nominations. It was celebrated for its striking use of colors as well as its haunting and unforgettable melodies. The film also propelled its young female lead, Catherine Deneuve, to international stardom, and she would later appear in Demy's other musicals as well.
Young Girls of Rochefort, Demy's
second musical foray,
is in essence an homage to the whimsical and fluffy-light MGM musicals of the
wartime era, particularly of the popular Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland "let's
put on a show" variant. The
film tells of one enchanted weekend in the lives of two young sisters living in
the coastal city of Rochefort. Deneuve
plays Delphine, a talented, young dancer who conducts regular ballet classes
with her sister, Solange (Dorléac), an aspiring composer.
From their studio classroom, they can see the entire town bubbling with
excitement, for it is the weekend of La fête
de la mer (the Sea Festival). There
will be games, songs, and exhibitions galore, with the grand centerpiece of the
festivities being the carnival.
such, the film opens with an ensemble dance that marks the arrival of this
traveling carnival into town. The
carnival members cavort along the outskirts of town, and upon reaching Rochefort,
they dance some more. The
ringmaster of this troupe, Etienne, is played by none other than George Chakiris,
familiar to musical fans as Bernardo, the Puerto Rican leader of the Sharks in West
Side Story. One almost expects
a rousing chorus of "America" from him at any given moment, but while
Chakiris doesn't sing any Bernstein tunes here, he still dances up a storm.
Etienne and his sidekick, Bill (Grover Dale), set up their carnival and
then go to a local cafe, where they announce their arrival to the shop-keeper
with their theme song "Nous voyageons de ville en ville" (We Travel
from Town to Town).
bemused shop-keeper, Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux), just happens to also the mother
of Delphine and Solange. She, too,
sings her own theme song in she reminisces about her daughters' long-lost
father. This love theme will be
reiterated by a new music shop-keeper in town, a Simon Dame, as he sadly recalls
a woman he loved once a long time ago. Coincidence?
Of course not! Coincidences
don't exist in musicals!
are actually two more love themes, one for each of the daughters.
Delphine will sing of her dream of meeting her ideal man one day.
The theme is repeated by a young local sailor, Maxence (Jacques Perrin),
who is an aspiring painter and sings of a portrait he painted of his ideal
woman, someone he once glimpsed from afar.
It should not be too surprising to learn that this portrait, currently on
sale at a local art shop, bears a remarkable resemblance to Delphine!
The final love theme is Solange's. It is actually the score to her new piano composition, which she hopes will gain her some recognition. And, indeed, her music is noticed by a passing composer, Andy Miller, who is in town visiting a friend. This, of course, leads us to the best casting surprise in the film - the composer, Andy Miller, is played by none other than that Hollywood musical icon, Gene Kelly! Kelly sings and dances as though he had just stepped off of the soundstage for An American in Paris, and it is still a delight to see this MGM star displaying his musical talents once more!
If you want earlier works, and to see that Demy was just as much a visual master of black and white as he was color, the early offerings Lola, a tale of dual unrequited loves, and Bay of Angels, a semi-noir take on a pair of gamblers, will fit the bill nicely. Fast forward twelve years, and check out the multi-Cesar nominated Une Chambre en Ville, a movie that showed Demy just as masterful in the 80s as he was in the 60s!
This is a magical and comprehensive look at one director whose sense of style and emotion earned him a spot separate from his fellow New Wave creators. These films are lovely, accessible, rich in artistic value but engaging in story.
Demy and Criterion are a match made in heaven; the care taken in presenting these wonderful movies in high definition is glowing. The black and white offerings are clean, crisp and clear, and the color ones? Well, I may have never wanted so badly to climb into my screen and become a part of the world I was seeing. I'm almost grateful these films are pre-3D, because they might have just become my alternative reality. These are gorgeous offerings.
The musicals fair best, as they are offered with uncompressed 5.1 soundtracks that really bring the sound to life. Other films have either 2.0 surround tracks or PCM mono (Lola and Bay of Angels). All come through cleanly, with fair dynamic range and tremendous music (even in the earlier offerings).
The extras are plentiful, and spread out over the discs...hope I don't miss anything:
• Two documentaries by filmmaker Agnès Varda: The World of Jacques Demy (1995) and The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993)
• Four short films by director Jacques Demy: Les horizons morts (1951), Le sabotier du Val de Loire (1956), Ars (1959), and La luxure (1962)
• Jacques Demy A to Z, a new visual essay by film critic James Quandt
• Two archival interviews from French television with Demy and composer Michel Legrand, one on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the other on The Young Girls of Rochefort
• French television interview from 1962 with actor Jeanne Moreau on the set of Bay of Angels
• Once Upon a Time . . . “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” a 2008 documentary
• French television program about the making of Donkey Skin
• “Donkey Skin” Illustrated, a video program on the many versions of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale
• “Donkey Skin” and the Thinkers, a video program on the themes of the film, featuring critic Camille Tabouley
• New video conversation with Demy biographer Jean-Pierre Berthomé and costume designer Jacqueline Moreau
• New interviews with author Marie Colmant and film scholar Rodney Hill
• Q&A with Demy from the 1987 Midnight Sun Film Festival, as well as an audio Q&A with him from the American Film Institute in 1971
• Archival audio recordings of interviews with Demy, Legrand, and actor Catherine Deneuve at the National Film Theatre in London
• Interview with actor Anouk Aimée conducted by Varda in 2012
• Interview from 2012 with Varda on the origin of Lola’s song
• Video programs on the restorations of Lola, Bay of Angels, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Une chambre en ville
In addition, there is a nice booklet featuring essays, photos and more!
It's actually not that hard to recommend a 6 movie box set to someone who may be completely unfamiliar with a filmmaker when the box set is as extraordinary as The Essential Jacques Demy. The care taken with the video, audio and extras furthers Criterion's reputation as the best friend of the cineaste. This set serves as introduction and immersion, and the most perfect tribute imaginable to a visionary filmmaker. Highest recommendation.