Second Time Around

The Young Girls of Rochefort
"Charm" is an overused word, but it can fairly be applied to this beautiful wide-screen musical by the late Jacques Demy, now restored to glory under the direction of his widow Agnes Varda.

Already anachronistic in 1967, with its plot consisting of little more than an intricate web of love affairs blossoming over four days in a coastal village, Young Girls is also quite forward-looking in its shameless embrace of pure aesthetic pleasure. With utter sincerity, Demy plops his completely artificial world (color-coded costumes, precisely balanced compositions, musical sequences) down in "real" open-air settings.

The film's stars are the singing-dancing sister act of Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorleac, real sisters (Dorleac died tragically shortly after filming her scenes). While Young Girls clearly exists in homage to such Hollywood confections as An American in Paris and West Side Story -- signaled by the casting of Gene Kelly and George Chakiris as an American painter in France and a traveling entertainer, respectively -- the film is peculiarly original to Demy in its doting on coincidence, its stylization, and its emphasis on passionate romanticism. A seemingly incongruous subplot about a killer, at odds with the film's otherwise benevolent universe, points up the dangers of the obsessions that the good characters court. The songs are more rhymed dialogue than music, the choreography more stylized walking than real dance, but that's all to Demy's real point: Life is a musical if you're in love.

-- Gregg Rickman

The Young Girls of Rochefort opens Friday, Sept. 18, at the Lumiere.

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