Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)
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Pure joy from beginning to end
Musicals are usually not my thing, and shallow romances appeal to me almost as much as the plague, so I had low expectations going into this one. But the music! I was charmed from the opening number and I'm still whistling it days later. There's no hamming for the camera in the choreography, just lighthearted love stories played in brilliant color on screen.
Les demoiselles de Rochefort is the third film in Jacques Demy's "musical" trilogy (after Lola and Les parapluies de Cherbourg) and this one has dancing. It's like Demy added an extra layer of artifice in each subsequent film until he got to a proper "Hollywood" musical. Rochefort, then, is flighty and silly and filled with coincidence, and oh, lets throw some male leads from American cinema in there like Gene Kelly and a French-dubbed George Chakiris (West Side Story)... I kept doing double-takes! Like Cherbourg, the production design is beautifully colorful, and MORE SO THAN Cherbourg, this is where La-La Land's aesthetic really comes from. All the way through, I was like, isn't that riff from in the La-La Land soundtrack?! Wait, did they poach the music directly from this film?! Side-by-side comparison proved it wasn't the case, but Rochefort doesn't just look similar, it has the same basic sound. A lot of fun songs, the clever wordplay actually pretty well represented in the subtitle translation if your French is rusty but your English is not (a lot of extra effort there), and repeating motifs where composer Michel Legrand approaches Sondheim. The one big question mark is just what Demy was thinking with the absolutely macabre connection between this film and the previous ones. Just trying to treat even the darkest event in the same flighty musical way? Maybe. But fans of the entire trilogy may be a little dismayed, or perhaps just bemused in a WTF?! kind of way. Rochefort can't replace Cherbourg in my heart (it's too silly for that), but though everything was sung in the earlier film, it had very few songs per se (just one, really). Rochefort has a LOT of distinct songs, so it's quite enjoyable on that level.
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In 11 official lists
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This movie ranks #12 in Time Out's The 100 Best French Films
This movie ranks #18 in BFI's 100 Film Musicals
This movie ranks #30 in IMDb's Musical Top 50
This movie ranks #70 in The Times's 100 Best French Films
This movie ranks #181 in Harvard's Suggested Film Viewing: Narrative Films
This movie ranks #237 in Time Out's 1000 Films to Change Your Life
This movie ranks #364 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Films of All Time
This movie ranks #372 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #463 in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
This movie ranks #564 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema
This movie ranks #846 in The Criterion Collection