Demy. Demy’s 10-year run from 1961-1970 was something to behold. I did a demy study in 2014 and I’m both pissed it took me so long to get to him and thrilled to have finally “discovered” his oeuvre and to watch and rewatch and enjoy the rest of my days. I think he was overlooked by me, and is overlooked by many even today, for a few reasons. 1. He works in a genre that just isn’t as in-step today (musicals) 2. He came out in a time when cinema was at its absolute peak (debut in 1961) and even I, as a big admirer, have to list several names during that era before his. 3. He stands behind the two giants of the French New Wave: Godard and Truffaut and 4. For some reason his films were very hard to find for a long time. A very nice box set Blu-ray collection of his films came out in 2014 so that should at least remedy #4. Demy’s small archiveable output is buoyed by the strength of Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the consistency in his work (expressionistic and live), and the fact that he’s a style plus director.
Best film: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It’s really an extension of his stunning debut Lola in 1961. It’s firmly both a French New Wave masterpiece and an elegant and beautiful Hollywood-like musical. It’s an odd and brilliant pairing of escapism and realism as much of the content is very 1960’s French new wave raw and un-hollywood while the visuals are pure Minnelli, Cukor and Donen Technicolor visual elegance and panache.
total archiveable films: 5
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 2 (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Lola)
top 100 films of the decade: 3 (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Lola, The Young Girls of Rochefort)
most overrated: The Young Girls of Rochefort is #369 on TSPDT and that’s maybe is 200 slots too highly rated for me. It’s tough to be too upset though with this gorgeous film. I love seeing Deneuve and Gene Kelly (Hollywood musical influence) singing and dancing in stunning Technicolor.
most underrated: Lola but there’s nothing egregious here. The TSPDT consensus has it at #507 and I’m at 417—close. This fantastic film is not to be confused with Fassbinder’s equally brilliant 1981 film. I didn’t come across Lola until 2014 and watching it was like a wonderful punch in the face. It’s poetic and certainly shows a master at work behind the camera for a debut film. It’s not filmed in gorgeous color (which Demy is known for) but it certainly proved that there were at least three genius auteurs directing films in the French New Wave (not sure if you count Varda as part of the New Wave or not as she came before).
gem I want to spotlight: Donkey Skin. Surrealism fantasy—it’s an odd film—but the décor and mise-en-scene match Demy’s talents. There are some jaw-dropping visuals even if the film is far more flawed than his big 3 (Umbrellas, Lola, Rochefort).
stylistic innovations/traits: He blended ultra-modern and contemporary new wave content with an old-school Hollywood style. Behind the camera he combined elegant tracking shots and long takes (one of his heroes was Ophuls and although he’s no Ophuls you can tell he really tried which I admire) with the gorgeous lighting and work in color like Minnelli or Stanley Donen.
- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
- The Young Girls of Rochefort
- Bay of Angels
- Donkey Skin
By year and grades
|1963- Bay Of Angels||R|
|1964- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg||MP|
|1967- The Young Girls of Rochefort||HR|
|1970- Donkey Skin||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
Watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg yesterday in cinema. Probably the only good thing that came from the pandemic is pretty regular showings of classic movies at my local cinemas.
Got to say I went with high hopes, and they were met completely. It was such a joy to watch!
– Completely unique experience. I knew that all the lines in the film will be sung, but still I was not prepared how mundane those lines were.)
– Warning after the movie you will have an urge to sing-song your words-haha
– I’ve enjoyed this approach, but I’m think the 90 minutes is a perfect running time. An additional 20-30 minutes could have tired me out.
– The rhythm of the movie is just from another world. I think Drake mentioned in his comments regarding One from the Heart how that film just floats. And I think is even more appropriate here. Almost every scene feels like it was meticulously synched so the camera movement, music, actors movement and actors sing-speak ( don’t know how to call it otherwise-heh) would be in harmony.
– And I didn’t even mention the glorious colours yet.)))
– Killer wallpaper work. I think even Visconti would be jealous, and he was no stranger to great wallpaper!
– Great achievement. If it was the only thing that Demy directed, it would be enough to make him more than only mr. Varda.)
– Now I have an urge to watch his filmography. Just need to make a place for it between the ones I’ve already planned.) But I think I will be able to do this, he doesn’t have a lot of movies, and they are usually short. Also, I don’t feel the need to watch all of them.
Wanted to share my opinions after finishing Demy study.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – MP
Lola – HR
The Young Girls of Rochefort – HR
Bay Of Angels – Not in archives. Decent one time watch. Really dislike the ending.
Model Shop – Not in archives. Mildly interesting. If you enjoyed Once upon a time in Hollywood, you may enjoy the vibe of this movie. Connections to Lola and Bay of angels were very neat.
Donkey Skin – Not in archives.
Une chambre en ville – Not in archives. Failed attempt to make a movie in style of Umbrellas.
Overall, I couldn’t help but think that Demy haven’t realized he’s full potential and I and if I had my personal director rating I would have him lower. Closer to the edge of top 100. But I think he has a legitimate claim to place in top 100 due to Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
@MadMike- I’m upset with your verdict on Lola, I think it’s close to MS/MP imo XD. But you certainly downgrade it imo, can u elaborate on ur verdict.
I’ve got both Lola and Young Girls of Rochefort in the MS range. The formal layers of coincidences driving each strand of Rochefort’s narrative is only matched by Demy’s use of colour and the way he creates gorgeous compositions out of those in his choreography. He’s definitely a stylist first and foremost, but in each of his three big films he has such a fascination in chance, fate, and coincidence.
@DeclanG – You are absolutely right. Fate, chance and coincidence is a very important theme for Demy.
Another interesting thing I noticed, that Demy is undoubtedly romantic, but that kind of happiness is fleeting. Even when Demy gives a big cinematic romantic ending like in Lola (for Lola at least) or Bay of angels, he shows that these relationships went south in Model shop. There are exceptions, of course, The Young Girls of Rochefort and Donkey skin. But in his other movies, these relationships do not last.
@M*A*S*H – Sorry, about that.) But I wanted to clarify that unlike Drake my grades are purely subjective, and I don’t have the same criteria for grading as him.
Regarding Lola, I cannot say that I had any problems with that movie (and I certainly have no problems with it being rated MS) but from me, it just doesn’t feel like it’s that good, you know? I am sure you had this kind of reaction with some films. Also, I watched Demy some time ago, so my impressions are not that fresh.
Why do it’s MS for you? Could you please elaborate? I would enjoy reading about this movie from somebody who is passionate about it.