The Essential Jacques Demy – The Criterion Collection #714-719 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 10, 2014 by Dennis Amith
The films included in this special set is one of the best releases I have seen from the Criterion Collection. For its films and all the bonus content that comes with each Blu-ray release featured in “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and DVD collection, this box set is essential and it is simply magnificent. “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and DVD set is a must-own for all cineastes. Highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 2014 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray + DVD Box Set – The Criterion Collection #714-719
YEAR OF FILM: “Lola” (1961), “Bay of Angels” (1963), “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964), “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (1967), “Donkey Skin” (1970) and “Une Chambre En Ville” (1982)
DURATION: “Lola” (88 Minutes), “Bay of Angels” (84 Minutes), “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (92 Minutes), “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (126 Minutes), “Donkey Skin” (90 Minutes) and “Une Chambre En Ville” (93 Minutes)
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Color, French DTS-HD MA 5.1 or DTS 2.0 DTS-HD MA or LPCM 1.0 Monaural with English Subtitles
COMPANY: THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: July 22, 2014
French director Jacques Demy didn’t just make movies—he created an entire cinematic world. Demy launched his glorious feature filmmaking career in the sixties, a decade of astonishing invention in his national cinema. He stood out from the crowd of his fellow New Wavers, however, by filtering his self-conscious formalism through deeply emotional storytelling. Fate and coincidence, doomed love, and storybook romance surface throughout his films, many of which are further united by the intersecting lives of characters who appear or are referenced across titles. The works collected here—made from the sixties to the eighties and ranging from musical to melodrama to fantasia—are triumphs of visual and sound design, camera work, and music, and they are galvanized by the great stars of French cinema at their centers, including Anouk Aimée, Catherine Deneuve, and Jeanne Moreau.
When it comes to French cinema, Jacques Demy is looked at as a pioneer. As many filmmakers through the ’60s were heavy into creating films as part of the Nouvelle Vague, Jacques Demy was forging his career path of not following the same route as his fellow filmmakers but doing what he felt was right for him. And for Demy, it was bringing some of that classic Hollywood musical bravado to France but creating a film his way, his style but yet showing his nod to Hollywood musicals but also the French New Wave.
While Jacques Demy is known for his musicals, he also created films with fascinating characters and strong storytelling. And to celebrate the 25th year anniversary since his death, what better than to release the films he is best known for as a collection.
With his wife, filmmaker Agnes Varda and many cinema companies wanting to restore Jacques Demy’s works, included in the Criterion Collection’s “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and DVD box set which will include the following films (please click on the film’s title to access our review):
“The Essential Jacques Demy” comes with slipcase to hold all six films and includes a 70-page book featuring the following essays: “Demy’s Paradise Found” by Ginette Vincendeau, “Walking on Sand” by Terrence Rafftery, “A Finite Forever” by Jim Ridley, “Not the Same Old Song and Dance” by Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Demy’s Fairy-Tale Worlds” by Anne E. Duggan, “Love and Death” by Geoff Andrew” and “Jacques Demy and Nantes: The Roots of Enchantment” by Jean-Pierre Barthome.
While there are notable names from the French New Wave, may it be Jean-Luc Godard, Alan Resnais, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, to name a few. Filmmaker Jacques Demy has established himself differently from the other filmmakers by creating films that are musicals, inspired by fairytales or the golden age of Hollywood.
Married to another filmmaker from the French New Wave, Agnes Varda, both have established their careers in cinema and for Demy, best known for his musicals such as “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)”, “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort), “Peau d Ane (Donkey Skin)”, to name a few.
But for every filmmaker, there is a beginning and for Jacques Demy, his beginning in cinema was his first feature film titled “Lola”. One of the films to be included in “The Essential Jacques Demy” on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
For anyone who has followed Jacques Demy’s oeuvre, let alone the films included in the Criterion Collection’s “The Essential Jacques Demy”, will see how “Lola” is possibly one of his greatest works that people had forgotten about.
Because Jacques Demy has been identified for his work in the French New Wave and how his musical work would be known for its music and vibrant colors, “Lola” was the film that wasn’t a film that people would identify with Demy.
A film about several individuals with a storyline tied together, “Lola” is a film that represents Demy’s childhood in Nantes, France. The bustling city that would eventually become France’s sixth largest city, was a much different city back then.
At the time the film was shot, Nantes was shown as a city yet in the rebuilding phase after World War II.
But unlike a film of Italian Neorealism, “Lola” is not about the seedy areas of France. What we see are normal working people or people doing all they can to survive and raise a family.
With our main characters, Roland Cassard (portrayed by Jacques Demy) is a young man trying to find himself. Wanting to find work, wanting to be a better man and wanting one woman in his life…Cecile/Lola (portrayed by Anouk Aimee).
While the character of Roland Cassard is your “everyman” or at least a man that wants to make something of himself, what is most interesting is where we would find the character of Roland Cassard years later, as the character once again appears in a Jacques Demy film, the 1964 French musical, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. Having watched the musical first and somewhat despising the character of Cassard for interfering with young love, after watching “Lola”, I felt that those feelings I had towards Cassard has since dissipated.
I learned of how Cassard is literally a representation of the many guys who dream of dating a beautiful girlfriend at a younger age and wonder if that same man fared much better many years later.
And while Cassard represents the “everyman”, the character of Cecile/Lola, is a representation of the woman you really like but has no interest in being with you. The ultimate beauty that you peel away many layers and realize that she was unattainable.
In the film, Cecile or Lola, as the prostitute that an American sailor named Frankie (portrayed by Alan Scott) has had sex with but knows he will get nothing from their relationship. As Cecile, she is the teenage girl that Roland has always loved, but as adults, she doesn’t feel the same way because her heart belongs to one man, Michel. A man who has disappeared and has not seen his wife or son, but yet Cecile holds out hope that she will be reunited with him someday.
The film tries to have a little breather and fun with the addition of the Desonyers, a family who looks wealthy and consists of a mother (portrayed by Elina Labourdette) and her young teen daughter Cecile (portrayed by Annie Duperoux). For both Frankie and even Roland, there is something about this young teen that reminds them of Cecile/Lola. Perhaps her young act of defiance to her mother despite her wise but yet spunky behavior or the fact that this well-mannered girl may not be what she seems.
The film also features actress Corinne Marchand, best known for her role on Agnes Vardas “Cleo from 5 to 7″ as Daisy, one of Lola’s co-workers.
But “Lola” is a film is more than just its characters, story and location shots. The film features the gorgeous cinematography by Raoul Coutard (“Jules et Jim”, “Breathless”, “Band of Outsiders”, “Pierrot le Fou”, “Z”) and last, the restoration and remastering of “Lola” is fantastic. Agnes Varda and crew should be commended for seeking out surviving elements of this film and restoring it for a new generation of cineastes who have discovered Jacques Demy’s work.
By 1963, actress Jean Moreau had become a popular star in France.
From her role in “Elevator to the Gallows” (1958), “La Notte” (1961) and “Jules et Jim” (1962), Moreau had become an actress in demand but also an actress who chose her films very carefully. Primarily, choosing films with directors that she wanted to work with.
And after watching Jacques Demy’s “Lola” in 1961, Moreau knew she wanted to work with the filmmaker for his second film, “La Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels)”.
Can their be a love story amongst gambling addicts?
As hokey it may sound, fortunately Jacques Demy’s romantic drama “Bay of Angels” is a non-banal film about two gambling addicts, one who lives for the thrill of risking it all and another who falls for the addict and wants to save her, but can he?
While “Bay of Angels” is remembered as one of Demy’s more sombering works but for me, the film was literally held on the shoulders of actress Jean Moreau.
Hot after the release of “Jules and Jim”, Jeanne Moreau was the French starlet that many filmmakers had wanted for her to be in their film. But being the creative actress that she was, it was important for her to work with the people of her choosing. And for her, it’s the director that was more important than the actual story.
In 1963, Jeanne Moreau decided that the filmmaker she wanted to work for was Jacques Demy because of his work on “Lola”.
Foregoing her darker hair for a platinum blonde look, Moreau’s transformation to the sexy Jacqueline “Jackie” Demaistre in a role that is rather fascinating in a Marilyn Monroe-esque type of way but also found enjoyable because of Moreau’s transformation to this gambling addict.
It’s very rare to see Moreau play such a role, but to see her play a divorced mother who has chosen to leave her husband and child in order to gamble, let alone mess with a guy she just met. This was rather bold for 1963.
But Jacques Demy was able to craft a film that utilized the actress very well and while Claude Mann was a young actor that was right for the role, it was Moreau who embodied the role and made you want to see how far her character will push the character of Jean Fourier to go from his clean cut boyish style to becoming a man that is more demanding.
While the film is primarily shot around a casino and hotel, the interactive banter between the characters was rather interesting. Almost like a tug-of-war that seemed as if one side is tipped and until we get a conclusion that works. And a conclusion that was more pleasant, compared to Demy’s first film “Lola”.
Considered as Jacques Demy’s masterpiece, the 1964 musical “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” receives the HD treatment for its 2014 Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection as part of “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and DVD box set.
The winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Foreign Language Films” in 1965 and four more Academy Awards at the 1965 Academy Awards, “The Umbrella of Cherbourg” received critical acclaim worldwide.
A beloved musical by man, this 2014 Criterion Collection Blu-ray release features the new restoration that was created in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original release which captures Demy’s vision of a vibrant and colorful Cherbourg but also a high quality restoration of the original 4-track stereo sound masters to digital by original composer Michel Legrand.
I have watched many fantastic musicals in my lifetime. And when it comes to musicals and when it comes to romantic films in general, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is one of the greatest romantic films and one of the great musical films created in all time.
“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is Jacques Demy’s most noticeable work in his oeuvre but it’s also his masterpiece that anyone who has watched it, the majority will agree about how fantastic this film is.
There was no doubt that Jacques Demy was inspired by “West Side Story” and Gene Kelly films but this is the film he wanted to make. Colorful, vibrant, a musical with wonderful music but a storyline that would make audiences cry. Originally, he wanted “Lola” to be a vibrant and colorful musical but it all worked out because the chemistry between Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo was magnificent.
The return of the character Roland Cassard from “Lola” was unexpected for audiences at the time but developed that connection to Demy’s first film and in someways, giving closure to the storyline of “Lola” in regards to Cassard’s character and how he evolved in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”.
But the overall storyline of the strongest of love or no matter how much people are in love, things always change. Some for the good and some for the bad but until that love is challenged, how long can one stay in love if separated.
What I love about the film is its structure and how it flows from upbeat but suddenly serious and that is what makes this film so original. Jacques Demy is able to tell a story that flows perfectly and we see these characters evolve and its final scenes are heart-wrenching but yet you know in your heart that it’s right.
Everything about this film is right. From its use of color, its use of set design and costume design. It’s a vibrant film with a wonderful and memorable musical score from Michel Legrand that I absolutely love listening to.
With the success of his musical “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, Jacques Demy wanted to go much larger, grander and create a French musical like what Hollywood has produced with music and choreography and most importantly, bringing one of his favorite American musical talents for his latest film, Gene Kelly.
Collaborating with composer Michel Legrand, “The Young Girls of Rochefort” would reunite Jacques Demy with Catherine Deneuve, her sister Francoise Dorleac, Jacques Perrin, Michel Piccoli, Danielle Darrieux, George Chakiris and Grover Dale.
While the story is about everyone wanting to find their ideal love and similar to “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” in which the songs act like conversation with another character, “The Young Girls of Rochefort” is definitely much grander in spectacle, thanks to its many musical numbers and exciting choreography from its cast and extras.
But while an enjoyable film, what made “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” so captivating was its storyline of love lost and the drama that grew as the movie continued. With “The Young Girls of Rochefort”, there really is no major dramatic element but many characters telling stories. And when they are not telling stories, they are singing and dancing.
While not as great as “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, “The Young Girls of Rochefort” is a different kind of musical that focuses on the beauty of Rochefort, the use of strong colors, music and choreography. And this should entertain musical fans, especially with Gene Kelly starring in the film and hearing him sing in French and lending a credibility of having a top American musical star in the musical.
As Jacques Demy has achieved success with his musicals “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort”, the filmmaker went on to create his first English-language film in 1969 titled “Model Shop” (which reprised the role of Lola starring Anouk Aimee).
But as the ’70s began, Demy has always wanted to create a children’s film and inspired by the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, Demy wanted to adapt “Peau d’ Ane” (Donkey Skin).
“Donkey Skin” is a fascinating film because it is Demy’s foret in to creating films for families, films that children can enjoy. But also accomplishing his goal of adapting a Charles Perrault fairy tale for the big screen.
Once again, Catherine Deneuve is absolutely ravishing as the princess, but also interesting to see her don the donkey skin and seen as the outcast of the kingdom.
But what I found really fascinating is the storyline about a princess’ refusal to take part in an incestuous relationship.
While stories of incestuous relationships were common from Greek mythology (Zeus and Hera) and royal intermarriage have been well-documented, it was interesting to watch a film and see the princess doing all she can to get out of it.
Of course, the film has the feel of “Cinderella” but I loved the fairy tale touch when it came to set design and costume design as well. From the servants of the Blue Kingdom painted in blue, or the Red Kingdom as servants are painted in red, along with their horses. But also to see interesting symbolism displayed in the film in which a dream sequence of the Prince has a song about partaking in something naughty, while in the background, you see a statue of a devil. There are moments of fascinating symbolism, so I found that very interesting to see throughout the film.
While the music of Michel Legrand is good, it’s not as strong as the music in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” or “The Young Girls of Rochefort” but Catherine Deneuve manages to make these songs which could have been forgettable to be much more interesting, playful and fun.
With the success that Jacques Demy achieved in his lifetime, by the early ’80s, there was a return to the past for the filmmaker, especially for his 1982 film “Une Chambre en Ville”.
“Une Chambre en Ville” is the final film featured in the Criterion Collection’s “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and a fitting musical to be featured in the set because of Demy’s return to Nantes, France and the return to a musical style in which conversations are all sung.
But where “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” was a film in which Demy set out to make audiences cry, for “Une Chambre en Ville” was about the tragedy of the workers’ strike of 1955.
In reality, the strike of 1955 in Nantes, Saint-Nazaire was the workers fighting against union bureaucrats, demonstrating in streets, occupying buildings and because the workers were fighting collectively for a pay raise without any true leader, the strike led to violence and a war between workers vs. bureaucrats. Workers occupied factories, bosses called in the CRS and the workers fought against the CRS.
The film is no doubt dark and tragic. Capturing a collective strike on the street of Nantes as hundreds of workers taking on the CRS (Compagnies Republicaines de securite), to see such a strike/riot converted to a musical is mesmerizing and unthinkable, but yet Jacques Demy was able to pull it off.
While many fans of Demy films will gravitate to his more vibrant musicals, “Une Chambre en Ville” does feature a different approach by Demy and the final ten minutes of the film are memorable.
And as these six films and its special features make up a perfect release for “The Essential Jacques Demy”, one can only hope there is a volume two.
I would love to see the 1969 film “Model Shop” (which features the return of the character Lola from the film “Lola”), his 1979 film “Lady Oscar” based on the Japanese manga “The Rose of Versailles”, his 1980 film “Break of Day” and his 1985 fantasy and musical film “Parking”.
Overall, the films included in this special set is one of the best releases I have seen from the Criterion Collection. For its films and all the bonus content that comes with each Blu-ray release featured in “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and DVD collection, this box set is essential and it is simply magnificent.
“The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and DVD set is a must-own for all cineastes. Highly recommended!
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