Dir: Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; Donkey Skin)
Demy's flirtation with the American musical continues, and this time he's got the king of the genre involved. Gene Kelly lip syncs some French, everyone lip syncs some songs, and the return on our investement is a flat, forced film that seems artificial. What should be all charm and lightness ends up being a movie going through the motions.
Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darriuex are sisters in a small town looking for romance and art through a move to Paris. Their mother owns a cafe, and everyone has either a long-lost love or some mind's eye vision of the perfect mate, and the film slowly brings everyone closer to fulfillment. Musical and dance numbers guide us along, and the choreography stands out here for its mediocrity. At this point in the evolution of musicals, we are well beyond the tired and repetitive ensemble dancing presented here. The songs are better, but not great.
Legrand was much better writing for Umbrellas. In fact, everything was better about Umbrellas. There, genuine emotion and quality acting undergirded a sweet and simple love story. Here, derivative cliche dominates. In Umbrellas, the music furthered characterization and story. Here, the songs are throw away reflections on puppy love and youth. Of course, in both, Demy's unforgiveable penchant for dubbed singing and dialogue detracts. But in Rochefort, the starting position was already poor.
There is some nice spectacle here, some good color and set design. And Gene Kelly, even in a role like this, deserves attention in everything he does. But this film belongs well near the bottom of your New Wave viewing list.