What defines a feel-good film? I’m probably not one to be asked this question with a generally pessimistic outlook upon life, but when I think of something that brings a more joyful sight to my life, one of the first films that I point to is none other than Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort. Following up The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, what Jacques Demy churns out is something completely different – stylistically and tonally. In The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, what Jacques Demy created was a musical whose dialogue all had been sung together with an incredibly heartbreaking narrative, but The Young Girls of Rochefort gives out something else all around, something more cheerful and bliss. Whenever I watch The Young Girls of Rochefort, I feel an unusual sense of joy running down my spine. Something that to some extent makes me feel more optimistic about life, which I rarely feel.
Coming off the melancholic tone from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jacques Demy crafts a different tale – but instead one that revels in so much blissfulness from start to finish. It’s a loving homage to musicals of the classical Hollywood era, but the appearance of Gene Kelly alone can grant it as Jacques Demy’s own Singin’ in the Rain. That’s only one of the many things that makes The Young Girls of Rochefort all the more joyful to watch, because it’s clear in style that Demy is attempting to capture what is so loved about the musicals of the classic Hollywood era, whether it come down from the colourful backgrounds or the overall joyous nature of the film. In the sense that The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is capturing what it’s like to watch a musical on the stage, there’s a reason as to why I prefer The Young Girls of Rochefort – it feels so much more open in terms of the spirit it is capturing.
It’s interesting to at least watch how in The Young Girls of Rochefort, Jacques Demy is taking a formula that would already be easy for one to point out from the Hollywood musical and instead forming something surprisingly all the more intriguingly complex at hand. With the feel-good nature which Jacques Demy establishes as a means of creating a vibe that alludes back to the musicals of the classic Hollywood era, it’s also very melancholy when it moves away from the musical bits. Yet Jacques Demy creates a flow that ultimately leaves everything flowing so perfectly together – he uses the musical numbers as a means of breaking away from a depressing reality, to a point of happiness especially with the monotonous state of life which these characters are inhabiting. It creates a good reflection back upon reality and it captures what one resorts to as a means of moving away so perfectly. If it hadn’t been clear already, then one can observe the purpose of Gene Kelly’s character in the film from the clear allusion to films like Singin’ in the Rain or An American in Paris.
As if those aren’t enough, each and every last musical number is so wonderful in the best sense. Composed by Michel Legrand together with lyrics written by Jacques Demy, something irresistibly catchy comes about from the many tunes which are laced in. Moving away from the onstage feel of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, what is presented in The Young Girls of Rochefort has a sense of freedom inside of the dazzling style which Jacques Demy is applying. Consistent to the film’s style, the musical numbers come about just as they would in any of the Hollywood musicals that Jacques Demy is paying his own tribute to, but in good measure. They add a dream-like quality to such a work, and ultimately work more to define everything that is delightful about watching The Young Girls of Rochefort.
Catherine Deneuve is stunning to look at as she always has been, but together with her late elder sister Françoise Dorléac, there’s a mark that the two leave as they play the Garnier twins. It’s not only the large smile that would arise from watching them sing “A Pair of Twins” but just the vibe that the two of them carry all throughout. All across the board these performances are so wonderful and full of life, and it’s not only from the twins and their seeking of happiness especially within a tedious day – but you also have Jacques Perrin and George Chakiris offering their own fair share of joy to the experience that is to be had. It’s always a joy to watch how the girls encapsulate a sense of humanity within all of the strange circumstances that come around them, creating an array of both heartbreak and delight in equal measure.
Never have I seen a musical much like this one, one that cleverly masquerades as a typical narrative for the Hollywood musical yet presents something so much more at hand. It’s an interesting comment upon how some souls cope with the monotony of life, and in some sense a nice jab at what appears so light especially within Hollywood musicals and how noticeably something darker might have been coming about the whole time. Though if there’s something to The Young Girls of Rochefort that makes it stand out from all the rest, it would have to be the sheer fact that it is so grounded even with reality amidst all the colourful backgrounds or arresting dance choreography. The Young Girls of Rochefort is escapism at some of its finest, and truly a perfect way to define a “feel-good movie.”
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Ciné-Tamaris.
Directed by Jacques Demy
Screenplay by Jacques Demy
Produced by Gilbert de Goldschmidt
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Dorléac, Danielle Darrieux, Gene Kelly, Jacques Perrin, George Chakiris, Michel Piccoli, Grover Dale
Release Year: 1967
Running Time: 120 minutes