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THE ESSENTIAL JACQUES DEMY

             

For Hicksflicks.com, July 25, 2014

The name Jacques Demy may not mean much to you unless you are a fan of international cinema. If so, you know him as the French filmmaker behind the pastel-colored musicals "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964) and "The Young Girls of Rochefort" (1967), as well as the musical fairy tale "Donkey Skin" (1970), all three starring Catherine Deneuve, along with the dramas "Lola" (1961, b/w), "Bay of Angels" (1963, b/w) and the operatic "Une chambre en ville" (1982).

All six films have been upgraded to gorgeous Blu-ray editions in the fabulous new box set "The Essential Jacques Demy," newly released by the boutique label The Criteron Collection, and the colorful landscapes of "Umbrellas" and "Rochefort" especially pop. (All of these films are, of course, in French with English subtitles.)

            

     Jacques Demy sets a scene with star Anouk Aimee for 'Lola'

Five of the six also boast music by the great Michel Legrand, and the songs for "Umbrella" in particular will carry you away.

Demy's first feature, the black-and-white "Lola," is a charming, wistful ensemble piece about the crisscrossing lives of several characters living in Nantes (which was Demy's hometown in France), with the primary focus on a single mother and cabaret singer (played wonderfully by Anouk Aimee) yearning for the return of her true love. (Also here are four short films by Demy made prior to "Lola.")

"Bay of Angels" is another black-and-white melodrama, this one starring the luminous (and surprisingly blonde) Jeanne Moreau as a casino hound whose fling with a bank clerk (Claude Mann) spirals into a dark obsession that mirrors their gambling addiction.

             

          Catherine Deneuve in 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg'

"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is famous as an entirely sung French musical (there is no spoken dialogue), which became an international sensation and shot Catherine Deneuve to worldwide stardom — and she is completely winning as a young woman working for her mother in a candy-colored umbrella shop. Her boyfriend is an auto mechanic who goes to war, leaving her pregnant and sadness ensues. Great score includes the hit song "I Will Wait For You."

"The Young Girls of Rochefort" sees Demy expanding his reach in this homage to Hollywood musicals, with Deneuve and her real-life sister Francoise Dorleac as twins longing to leave small-town life for the big city. Co-stars the great Gene Kelly, as well as George Chakiris, hot off his Oscar-winning performance in "West Side Story."

       

      Gene Kelly, Catherine Deneuve, 'The Young Girls of Rochefort'

"Donkey Skin" is another musical, this one based on a classic French fairy tale, with Deneuve as a princess whose widowed father wants to marry her (!), so she goes into hiding, impersonating a scullery maid and wearing the skin of her father's prized donkey. Sounds weird, I know, but it's actually quite enchanting and gorgeously photographed.

"Une chamber en ville" is another musical with every line of dialogue sung, here in service of a story set against the backdrop of a workers' strike in 1955 as a young woman (Dominque Sanda) yearns to leave her loutish husband (Michel Piccoli) for an earthy steelworker (Richard Berry).