This beloved classic epitomised the French ’60s musical, with Demy at the top of his game weaving his multitude of characters together in the delightful and colourful world he had created.
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Francoise Dorleac, George Chakiris, Jacques Perrin, Michel Piccoli, Gene Kelly
Plot: Twins Delphine and Solange dream of getting out of their small hometown Rochefort to find love and fortune in the big city. As they plan to leave, both are hired as carnival singers. Over the course of one weekend, Solange falls for American musician Andy, while Delphine searches for her ideal man.
Awards: Nom. for Best Original Score (Oscars)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Love; Ambition
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
This is one of the most famous musicals to come out from France in the ’60s, epitomising what’s so delightful about the genre as interpreted by the French.
It has singing and dancing of course, yet feels uniquely different from, say, Hollywood musicals of that period such as West Side Story (1961) or The Sound of Music (1965).
Gene Kelly, from an even earlier era of Hollywood musicals, has a supporting role as an American composer who visits an old friend in Rochefort, the seaside town in which the film is set.
Combining slice-of-life realism with the genre’s theatrical form, The Young Girls of Rochefort weaves a multitude of characters who meet (or don’t—missed connections is the main theme), forming relationships that are at best temporary.
“I must steer clear of dreary bourgeoisie art; I must be avantgarde and paint what’s in my heart.”
A visiting fair may be the central attraction in this sleepy town, but really, the centre of attention belongs to Catherine Deneuve and her real-life older sister, Francoise Dorleac (whose promising career was tragically cut short in a car accident in the same year of Rochefort’s release), two musically-inclined siblings who desire to go to Paris to realise their artistic ambitions.
I personally prefer the bittersweet, heart-stirring The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) to this lively concoction, but Demy sure knows how to create dreamy, delightful worlds where the colours pop like candy bars in a sweets shop.
He was perhaps most ambitious here, executing more elaborate choreographies and being more intricately involved with writing the lyrics to Michel Legrand’s iconic music, yet some of the best moments in the film are the quieter parts, be it someone on the piano, or where the visuals primarily tell the story, particularly the bookending scenes as that visiting fair arrives and departs.