Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thanks to Criterion's new Blu-rays, Jacques Demy's classic musicals -- THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT -- have never looked better!

And they sound better, too! Finally: two of the most beautiful films -- especially in terms of color, costumes, set and production design -- in the history of cinema have arrived on Blu-ray, and the result is eye-poppingly, mouth-wateringly gorgeous beyond anything we've so far seen. The films are the work of the late Jacques Demy, and though they were restored a few years back, with the help of Demy's widow, Agnès Varda and her Ciné Tameris -- THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT in 2011 and THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG in 2013 --
thanks to The Criterion Collection and Janus Films, a Blu-ray of each is available this month. It was worth the wait. TrustMovies has now seen each of these films a few times, beginning with their original theatrical release in the USA (Cherbourg in 1964, Rochefort in 1968), and I can honestly say that neither movie has ever looked better. (I am including in that assessment the viewing of each on the big movie-theater screen.) Yes, I miss 35mm film, too, but damn! this hi-def digital image looks sensational. Now, this is partly due to the fact that Demy was not exactly subtle with his color palette. His colors -- so many pastels and deep, rich saturations -- are constant and gorgeous. and that's his point. He wanted us to ooh and aah, and drool ourselves silly. And do we ever!

Both films are love stories -- Cherbourg (above) is a sad one, tempered by compromise that leads to adjustment and a kind of happiness; Rochefort (below) is utterly upbeat and delightful, even if it does feature a slasher killer among its many memorable characters -- and though I have long loved the latter, each viewing leading to higher regard, I finally, only this time around found the former to be almost as moving and worthwhile as its fans have kept telling me over the years.

Is this due to my aging into the senior twilight? Maybe. Or the wonderful Blu-ray transfer? That, too. Whatever, I was happy to have finally enjoyed the film so much. Still, though it proved to be Demy's most successful at the international box-office, it really does not hold a candle to Rochefort. This is partially due to Cherbourg's being shot in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, while Rochefort is in 2.35:1, and Demy's use of the wide screen is simply terrific. The many dance numbers comes to vivid life, and your eye is constantly roving to catch every new color, composition and delight.

The very young and very beautiful Catherine Deneuve stars in both films but Rochefort gives us the rare opportunity to see her late and greatly talented (and also gorgeous) sister Françoise Dorléac (at right in the two photos above) in action. Her untimely death at age 25 brought an end to a career that might have been the equal of Deneuve's.

La La Land , which, in a way, owes its very existence to M. Demy, may have cleaned up at this year's Oscars, but as charming and fun as it often is, that movie is not a patch on the wonderful Rochefort -- a film that features real dancers: Gene Kelly (two photos above), George Chakiris and Grover Dale (center left and right, respectively, below), and a very talented ensemble, too.

The music in both films -- Rochefort is superior here, too -- is by Michel Legrand, and it is pleasant and serviceable but not a whole lot more. (La La Land's music was no better.) In Cherbourg (below), in particular, Legrand is quite repetitive, and because the entire movie is sung, we get an awful lot of recitative. Rochefort is only maybe half sung, with the remaining dialog often in verse, which is more fun.

Rochefort also has exquisite turns by the lovely Danielle Darrieux and the young and adorable Jacques Perrin, with Michel Piccoli doing a fine job as the unjustly spurned lover with a problematic name. If you're a virgin to these movies, here's your chance to see them at their best, but if you're already a fan, you won't want to miss this new and top-notch opportunity.

Rochefort is a film I view every few years, just to cheer me up all over again, but now that I can better appreciate Cherbourg, I may try that one occasionally, too. From Criterion, both films hit the street this past Tuesday, April 11, on Blu-ray and DVD -- full of terrific "extras." as per usual with Criterion -- and are available for purchase, and I would hope for rental, too, on DVD or streaming. (Maybe eventually via The Criterion Channel on FILMSTRUCK.)

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