May 27 2011
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort) (1967)
Cate mentioned this one in comments on the review of “Moliere” and described the plot as “barking.” Oh, yeah, I agree with that. Another way to phrase it might be wondrous European WTFery. Singing and dancing and romancing and a gruesome murder. It’s got it all!
I’m just going to steal the Netflix synopsis of the plot:
Living in the small town of Rochefort, France, twin sisters Delphine and Solange Garnier (Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac) yearn for the romance of Paris. But when a charming pair of song-and-dance men (George Chakiris and Grover Dale) comes to town, the sisters get more than they ever dreamed. This effervescent film by acclaimed director Jacques Demy co-stars silver-screen legend Gene Kelly.
It’s the late swinging 60s here and the entire town of Rochefort is filled with young women in short pleated skirts and matching berets plus young men in straight legged jeans and half boots all spontaneously dancing in the streets to an ooh-wah chorus. But the dance moves are more Broadway musical rather than The Frug, The Watusi, The Mashed Potato or the Twist, thank God. The sets are all sunny and bright with lots of glass walled buildings and large open windows. It’s kind of a fantasy town – clean and spiffed up with no garbage cans or double parked cars to be seen. And whoever did the English subtitles deserves an award for matching the rhythm and rhyme of the original French song lyrics.
Catherine Deneuve and her real life sister Françoise Dorléac have a seemingly endless supply of the same patterned dress in different colors which are then topped off by the most amazingly large frou-frou hats. They would have been right at home at the Royal Wedding. It looks like their onscreen mother played by Danielle Darrieux (see my review of “The Rage of Paris”) also goes to the same dressmaker. And isn’t she looking hot for a fifty year old? There’s also a dance number where the sisters wear bouffant wigs and dresses that echo those worn by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
The music is light and breezy with the same tune being used for several numbers as sung by different characters. It helps if you like it because you’re going to hear it a lot. There’s even a toe taping number that describes the gruesome ax-murder complete with speculation as to where the blood flowed. The characters then appear to forget the fact that a murderer is loose in town until the very end when the identification of the murderer in their midst provokes more bemusement than horror. O-kay….
The plot is fairly simple with separated lovers, newly met lovers and fated lovers all moving about the town and just missing each other until the very end when two of the couples hook up onscreen while the last couple literally drive off into the sunset – or rather the afternoon as it’s about twelve o’clock – in separate vehicles though in the same caravan and we just have to assume that they’ll eventually meet up on their way to Paris.
The Netflix description uses the word “effervescent.” I would also submit “lighter than air” and champagne bubblely. It’s obviously a faux (so much nicer than calling it fake) world but one which is charming. It does have it’s depths even beyond the ax-murder as we learn that one couple has been separated for ten years for a truly silly reason yet in the end, all appears to be either right or headed in that direction. I’d file this one under “oh, why not” or “nice way to spend two hours.” B-