‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’ (1967)

❉ ‘Rochefort’ is a grand confection, a stylised and colourful fantasy, writes Matt Barber.

“Paris is small for great passion like us.”

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, directed by Jacques Demy in 1967, is a romantic musical set in a French southwestern seaside town.

Two sisters are looking for love and, through a series of musical interludes, they encounter a host of suitors including an American played by Gene Kelly. Kelly’s involvement is the key to this movie placing one foot in Hollywood, an extension of Godard’s obsession of embellishing American genre forms with a postmodern twist.

With Rochefort, the genre being twisted is the big budget, elaborately choreographed musical, the kind that Kelly made a career out of. As with Demy’s early Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), the music is at the core of the film and the film is given texture with brightly coloured costumes, rich, sunny cinematography and stylised performances. There’s more than a touch of the French New Wave fourth-wall breaking: characters look straight down the camera and there are also references to other (ostensibly more serious) movies such as Jules et Jim (1962). There is also a surprising similarity to the films of Luis Buñuel both through its clean visual style but also in its touch of surrealist juxtapositions as the town appears to be occupied by transient circus workers, and formal troops of passing soldiers and sailors. The result is a fantasy world in which the musical interludes are perfectly placed, moments of chaos and creation butt alongside the khaki formality. It’s this genre and narrative that Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966) parodied the year before, and in fact the similarities are striking if, perhaps, coincidental. Chytilová’s film also has two girls looking for love and encountering a variety of men, but while the Czech film pulls in the direction of the experimental, Rochefort pulls it back towards the easily digestible and populist. It’s a grand confection; a stylised and colourful fantasy perfectly suited to a Blu-ray upgrade.

❉ ‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort: A film by Jacques Demy’ (France/1967/colour/126 mins), starring Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Dorléac, Gene Kelly. Blu-ray released on 4 November 2019; French language, with English subtitles. RRP: £19.99 / Cat. no. BFIB1361 / Cert PG.

Special features

❉ Newly commissioned feature commentary by David Jenkins
❉ A Melody Composed by Chance… (2019, 19 mins): audiovisual essay by Geoff Andrew
❉ Les Demoiselles ont eu 25 ans (1993, 67 mins): Agnès Varda’s documentary celebration of Demy and his film
❉ The Guardian Interview: Catherine Deneuve (2005, 7 mins): excerpts of the actress in conversation at the NFT
❉ The Guardian Interview: Jacques Demy (1982, audio, 76 mins): the director interviewed on stage following a screening of Une Chambre en ville
❉ The Guardian Interview: Michel Legrand (1991, audio, 71 mins): the great composer discusses his career, recorded at the NFT
❉ The Guardian Lecture: Gene Kelly (1980, audio, 76 mins): the song-and-dance legend recorded on stage at the NFT discussing his career
❉ Illustrated booklet (***first pressing only***) containing essays by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Selina Robertson and Dr Nicolas Pillai, a biography of Jacques Demy by Jason Wood, film credits and notes on the extras.

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