THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT
Review by Ed Nguyen
Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Dorléac, George Chakiris, Gene Kelly
Director: Jacques Demy
Audio: French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Disney (Miramax)
Length: 125 minutes
Release Date: May 6, 2003
are a pair of twins, born in the sign of Gemini..."
1964, French New Wave director Jacques Demy crafted a film that has since become
admired as one of Europe's finest musicals. That film, The
Umbrellas of Cherbourg, featured a young Catherine Deneuve and was virtually
responsible for propelling her overnight to international stardom.
Three years later, Demy re-cast Deneuve in another musical, Les
Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young
Girls of Rochefort). This time,
his film not only showcased the luminous Catherine Deneuve but also featured her
real-life sister, Françoise Dorléac, as well!
Young Girls of Rochefort
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!
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
get all that? The film weaves in a
great deal more coincidences and subplots than I have described, but to mention
any more would merely be too confusing, particularly since the storyline really
doesn't matter. The plot, as with
those of the earlier musicals that this film emulates, is ultimately
inconsequential and merely serves as a subtext through which to keep the
destined lovers apart until the end of the film.
catalysis that ultimately brings everyone together is, of course, the presence
of the carnival itself. The
carnival stirs the imagination of the folks of Rochefort, and everywhere, people
are dancing and cavorting happily in the streets.
The Young Girls of Rochefort is
a throwback to the free-spirited musicals of yesteryear when anyone could
spontaneously erupt into song and dance and frequently did.
While modern musicals try to rationalize why a character might suddenly
burst into song, that is not the case here.
In The Young Girls of Rochefort,
if anyone wants to start singing, he or she just does so!
The musical genre, by its very nature, is not a reality-based one
anyways, so musicals which take themselves too seriously frequently lose the
true essence of what a musical should be - fun, carefree, and light-hearted.
In fact, The Young Girls of
Rochefort is so unabashedly jovial and so uninhibited at the prospect of
being a musical that it even slips in a spoken reference to the film's actual
from the songs, of which I have only alluded to a mere handful thus far, there
is the wealth of dancing in this film. The
dancing is not as tightly choreographed or as precisely performed as in
Hollywood musicals, but what it lacks in precision, it makes up in abundant
enthusiasm. George Chakiris, of
course, is reliable and solid. Even
Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac have several opportunities to dance,
including their sister-act routine for the carnival (it's that ultimate
theatrical cliché - they go out as youngsters, but they've got to come back as
stars). And then, there's Gene
Kelly! For this film, he has Dorléac
as his dance partner, and while she would certainly never be mistaken for Cyd
Charisse, it is still a delight to see Gene Kelly in a romantic dance like all
the ones he used to perform in his MGM films.
real life, Françoise Dorléac was only a few years older than Catherine Deneuve
and a solid film star in her own right. The
Young Girls of Rochefort showcases the shared qualities that once made Dorléac
and her sister such popular French actresses, and although this was Dorléac's
final film, it is a rare and thrilling opportunity to see the two sisters
The Young Girls of Rochefort will
appeal most broadly to fans of the musical genre. Those who dislike musicals in general may not be persuaded
otherwise by this film, but it is nevertheless a fine homage to the classic MGM
Young Girls of Rochefort
is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format.
The transfer is quite colorful and has no significant compression
defects, although it is a bit soft. The
photography of this film recalls the sparkling Technicolor glow of the classic
1940's musicals of MGM. While the
print shows a few signs of age here and there, on the whole it looks quite good.
This should come as no surprise, considering that the film received a
meticulous restoration in 1996 supervised by Agnes Varda (Demy's widow and an
acclaimed French filmmaker herself).
Trivia - A
young Varda makes a cameo in the film as a nun who visits a music shop!
Young Girls of Rochefort
is a French musical, so naturally all the dialogue and songs are in French. The audio track is a newly remastered 5.1 mix and sounds
quite pleasing. It is quaint to
hear French coming from the lips of George Chakiris and Gene Kelly (both are
dubbed). Kelly actually did speak
French for his role, but apparently, his accent made him sound more like an
American in, uh, Rochefort rather than a native speaker.
a similar note, the songs are all pre-recorded, and the lip-synching in the film
is not always very precise. Nor,
for that matter, are attempts to persuade us that these actors actually play the
instruments they are seen tooting or striking very convincing, either.
But, no matter - these minor flaws are overshadowed by the infectiously
gleeful energy of the performances themselves.
Legrand's breezy and very jazzy score is also quite good.
It doesn't match the poignancy of his melodies from The
Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but this score still has several catchy tunes.
subtitles are available and offer an interesting twist - the subtitles to the
songs actually rhyme! As a result,
they aren't always exact translations of the French lyrics but do tend to
generally convey the spirit of the songs.
are no special features on this DVD except for a few trailers.
Those trailers are for Belle de Jour, Purple Noon,
and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the
Anthony Quinn live-action version, not the Disney animated film).
Also included is a self-promotional spot showcasing clips from many of
the most popular Miramax films over the years.