" Oh come come now. Just because you sold your soul to the devil, that needn’t make you a teetotaler. "
— Edward Arnold, The Devil and Daniel Webster

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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Seeing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for the first time just a few years ago reminded me why I love watching movies. Every now and then you discover one that transcends expectations and convention. Once in a while, you discover Art.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a dark and moving jazz opera — every line of dialogue is sung — about an idealistic young couple pulled apart by war.

The Young Girls of Rochefort is not quite a sequel to Umbrellas; it’s not set in the same world. But the director, realizing he’d found a successful genre, made another musical with the same star and the same composer. The Young Girls of Rochefort doesn’t match the greatness of Umbrellas, but it is a good piece of entertainment.

Drifters

Gene Kelly and Catherine Deneuve sing and dance through Rochefort in springtimeTwo drifters come into the town of Rochefort. They travel from town to town, selling motorcycles in town squares. Two sisters live here in Rochefort, along with their mother and little brother. A sailor on his way out of the service is in town on his last leave, and an American maestro is in town to look up an old friend from conservatory.

These eight characters sing and dance their way through the streets of Rochefort, looking for love and finding each other.

Catherine Deneuve is almost wasted in her role as Delphine, one of the two sisters. She isn’t bad in the part by any means. But one usually thinks of Deneuve as a star. She has such a natural beauty as to stand out in a film. In The Young Girls of Rochefort she doesn’t get to be the center of attention. She not only has a twin sister, but she is also surrounded by a large cast of characters. Her appearance does more for the movie than it does for her career.

The same could be said of Gene Kelly, who makes an appearance as the American smitten by the music of Solange (Francois Dorleac), Delphine’s sister. Unfortunately, some of Kelly’s vocal performance is lost in dubbing. I wish his voice had been left intact, because although the match is pretty good, it’s clearly not always Kelly’s voice.

Kelly’s unique brand of formal yet athletic dance stands out when he’s on screen. Clearly he was given some freedom to choreograph his own scenes. And yet in contrast, the exuberant dancing of the other characters is less stoical than anything Kelly would do.

In particular, the two drifters, Etienne and Bill (George Chakiris and Grover Dale) dance up a storm in their scenes, stealing the show from Kelly, if not with their talent then at least from their youth and good looks.

Art House Sequel

Rochefort doesn’t have the same timeless quality as its predecessor, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Some of the numbers in Rochefort seem dated, as do many of the costumes, (even though it’s a musical). It is not a masterpiece like Umbrellas is.

Also, Rochefort is more a series of vignettes than it is a cohesive story. The plot is a series of excuses for songs and dances; it strings you along; it toys with you. Two characters who are destined to meet, miss each other by a hair. Then again. And again. It’s an effective ploy, but it’s also a transparent device.

Still, Rochefort might have a broader appeal. For one thing its tone is not nearly as heavy as Umbrellas’. Even the color scheme is noticeably brighter. In fact, the reason to see this movie is for the sheer spectacle of it — the songs and dances and the bright daylight views of Rochefort in spring.

A second viewing made the movie even better because I could enjoy this audiovisual treat without spending too much time reading the subtitles. And with the chapter access of a DVD, I can watch my favorite numbers and get a quick 10 or 15 minutes of entertainment. That’s something you wouldn’t want to do with Umbrellas.

Picture and Sound

The DVD is made from a restored print overseen by Jacques Demy’s wife Agnes Varda in 1994. The picture — both in the restored source and the DVD transfer — is excellent. The color is amazing. The pinks, whites, and pale blues of Rochefort are a vivid pastel counterpoint to the heavy fuschia and black of Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Some of the songs from Umbrellas have become jazz standards. The same can’t be said for The Young Girls of Rochefort. There are three songs that won’t let go of my brain, but they don’t seem to have the staying power of “I Will Wait For You” and “Watch What Happens.”

The music in The Young Girls of Rochefort is, however, distinctively Michel Legrand, with his mobile, descending, repeating key changes. And like the great French comedies of Jacques Tati, The Young Girls of Rochefort repeats the music as themes and leitmotifs. You’re bound to hear each song more than once, and in this case, repetition makes the music stick in your head. I was humming the simple melodic lines days after seeing the movie.

And although the music and sound are very good, the disc is sort of a rip-off. The box says the DVD is in “Dolby Surround,” but the movie is actually in 2 channel stereo. Technically, it probably is encoded in some flavor of Dolby “surround,” but there is no surround-sound about it. That doesn’t make the sound bad, but it does make the packaging deceptive.

DVD Extras

For better or worse, there are no extras on the disc except for some Miramax promos for other films. I didn’t need a scene-by-scene commentary, but I would have been interested to see some footage of the 1994 restoration. Even one or two stills of “before and after” would have made for an inexpensive, interesting bonus feature.

Even without extras, the DVD of The Young Girls of Rochefort is highly recommended, particularly for multiple viewings. It’s one you’ll want to revisit after you’ve watched over and over. Friends and family on my Christmas shopping list might just keep their eyes open for this disc.

  • Marius Herea: I very much agree with Mr. Marty Mapes' opinions about this movie.
    He is obviously a pro.
    Except that he forgets to mention Francoise Dorleac's misterious beauty, her sensuality, her charm and her special unique voice- like a parfum, as Catherine once called it.
    (I don't mean her singing as most actors voices were dubbed)
    None of the two beautiful sisters was the centre of attention and yes, the plot was a series of excuses for the songs.
    I find the songs as beautiful as those of "The Umbrellas" and the orchestration was made with great finesse.
    Obviously,this movie has no psihological depth. It is an entertainment movie.But, according to the cast and the quality of both sound and image, which, as Mr. Mapes already said, it was better than of "The Umbrellas", "The young girls of Rochefort" is probably the best musical ever made in Europe.
    It's mainly the beautiful romantic music of Michel Legrand and the cast that made this movie succesful.Even the lyrics of Mr. Jacques Demy were very funny here and there.
    This movie seems to me as if it was done yesterday. Maybe because there is no other movie like this made in Europe afterwards...
    I watched it many times and I will watch it again.
    Me too, I use the remote control in order to watch the best moments.


    January 25, 2007 reply
  • randall burns: Young Girls was a great influence on my career in the theatre. This is what a movie musical is all about...entertainment! Legrand's score is underappreciated and this project would translate well to the Broadway stage. Certainly in my top 5 list of best movie musicals! October 24, 2007 reply