Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Rochefort files

One of the more cinematically interesting musicals ever to hit the big screen is airing on the Independent Film Channel at 9:45 AM ET on July 13: The Young Girls of Rochefort.

The story is a simple one: a group of impossibly thin and good-looking dancers flit around the French seaside town of Rochefort one weekend, bemoaning their lost loves, only to find that the loves they seek have been under their noses all along. It's the way this story -- or more accurately, the myriad of intertwined stories -- is told that makes it so interesting. The main love stories involve a pair of French twins (Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac) who eventually fall in love with a concert pianist (played by Gene Kelly, still looking fabulous in his early fifties) and a sailor/artist who is looking for his idéal féminin (Jacques Perrin, who must have had a ton of makeup on, because nobody can look that stunning in real life). However, there is also their mother, who left a music-store owner behind (although he's come back to Rochefort), and two carnies (George Chakiris from West Side Story and Grover Dale) who come into town with their fair and serve as the catalyst for much of the film's action. The plot lines are largely coincidence driven, but not in the sense that they're unrealistic. True, much of the story defies reality, which I'll get to in a bit, but the coincidences all stem from everybody magically being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time.

This being a musical, there's a lot of singing and dancing. The dancing is not of the Fred Astaire type, or even the normal Gene Kelly type that we saw in his musicals for MGM, but the angular, muscular dancing of West Side Story. (It should probably be mentioned, however, that Kelly did have some familiarity with this sort of dancing, having hosted a famous episode of Omnibus in which he compared the movements sports to those of dancing.) The lyrics in the singing are also quite urbane, and the translation of the IFC print is intelligent, preserving as much as possible the wit and rhyme of the original French.

Where the movie is at its most unrealistic is in its visuals. The Young Girls of Rochefort uses a largely pastel color scheme, and everything looks absolutely gorgeous. (Some of the best pictures I could find are at Tao Yue's review.) There's no way, though, that any French town would look that good in real life; as much as people might try to keep their towns clean, the natural state of affairs is for everything to end up slightly dingy. By the same token, I don't think anybody wears the colors the actors here wear, especially Chakiris and Dale. However, the stunning visuals combine with the singing and the dancing to make this movie full of pure joy. It's fun to watch, and everybody involved makes it look as though they were having fun making it, too. Fortunately, it's also available on DVD, should you miss IFC's showings.

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