It took thirty-some years… but I finally fell in love with the films of Jacques Demy early last year. Well, to be exact, I fell in love with Demy’s debut Lola (1961), starring the alluring Anouk Aimée as the title character, a dancehall girl with big fantasies and a broken heart, and the subsequent phantasmagoric musicals by way of an ever shifting Gallic naturalism, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). The latter two films are connected to Lola in loose but fascinating ways (as is Demy’s first feature for an American studio, Model Shop from 1969, which I haven’t seen) and redefined the musical genre by juxtaposing sometimes gritty or provocative subject matter with memorable musical flourishes from composer Michel Legrand. I still need to see Demy’s second film, La Baie des Anges (1963), starring Jeanne Moreau, and then there are his post-1969 fantasy films like Peau d’Âne and The Pied Piper.
Demy, who during the early days of the French nouvelle vague was widely appreciated, especially by Godard, was pretty much derided by the time May 1968 came scorching in… especially by Godard again who felt that his old compatriot should take his head out of the cinematic clouds and engage with political reality. But Demy maintained his own artistic trajectory, though in doing so he arguably dimmed in the eyes of many critics and audiences alike. His reputation since his death in the early 1990s seems to have slowly regained some footing and it’s about time.
This clip is from the opening moments of Lola. Lensed by the great Raoul Coutard (who shot many of the pivotal films of Godard and Truffaut), the scene perfectly sets up the mystery at the heart of the tale and within Lola herself. And maybe Ludwig has a little something to do with it as well.