BAY OF ANGELS
directed by Jacques Demy run April 19-25 at Varsity
OBSCURE AMONG the canonized figures of the French New Wave, Jacques Demy (1931-1990) has been rediscovered for his fun, campy late-'60s musicals (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort). Yet such color and artifice are entirely lacking from his rarely screened, though very worthwhile, first two pictures. Compared to the politics of Godard or self-absorption of Truffaut, Demy's 1961 Lola might seem slight, but its lightness has aged surprisingly well.
Anouk Aim饠(8H) plays the eponymous cabaret dancer who waits in the seedy port city of Nantes for her lover to return from the sea. Raising their 7-year-old alone, she's reduced to prostitution. Is she depressed? Mais non! She's a vivacious optimist, which contrasts mightily with her childhood friend Roland, a parody of glum Gallic existentialism. ("This town and its people bore me.") During the course of a few coincidence-filled days, she and Roland are reunited and he naturally falls for her, as does her current U.S. Navy client (hilariously French-accented), with whom an unrelated 14-year-old girl is experiencing her own first (chaste) love. Everyone's lost in overlapping daydreams, memories, and misunderstandings, with Demy affectionately pulling the strings to achieve just the right conclusion. It's tr賠charmant.
By contrast, 1964's Bay of Angels is all about sordid sensation. Gambling's lure draws bank clerk Jean into the clutches of roulette-wheel addict Jackie (Jeanne Moreau), leading to a manic binge along the Cotꠤ'Azur. During a rare moment of reflection, Jackie sighs, "I feel rotten inside," but she's fabulous on the outside, with Marilyn-blond hair, dark brows, chic Dior suit, and an inch of ash on the cigarette surgically attached to her lip. What man could resist her? Certainly not love-struck Jean, whom Jackie treats dismissively as a good-luck token. They're hardly a couple you'd bet on. And yet, after decades of downbeat French cinema, today Demy makes a happy ending seem daring.