With Model Shop, French director Jacques Demy brought his swooning sensibility to hippie-era L.A.

With Model Shop, French director Jacques Demy brought his swooning sensibility to hippie-era L.A.

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Last Stand, the first American film by gifted Korean director Kim Ji-woon (I Saw The Devil, A Tale Of Two Sisters), has us thinking about foreign directors working in America for the first time.

Model Shop (1969) 
Though French New Wave filmmaker Jacques Demy was heavily influenced by American musicals, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg director seemed the least likely of his peers to “go Hollywood,” since his particular mix of swooning expressionism, banal naturalism, and abstract autobiography was so rooted in the European waterside cities of his youth. While he toned down his style some for the Los Angeles-set Model Shop, Demy told the same kind of story: about lonely people failing to connect. Unemployed architecture student Gary Lockwood, his aspiring actress girlfriend Alexandra Hay, and scantily clad model Anouk Aimée all circle around each other in Model Shop, while fitting into a dynamic world of political radicals and groovy rock bands. (The soundtrack, by underrated cosmic-rockers Spirit, is one of the best of its era.)

Demy reportedly wrote the script in his native French and had it translated, and the result is a talky film that lacks conversational nuance. Yet Model Shop still evokes hippie-era L.A. with none of the heavy-handedness of Michelangelo Antonioni’s similar Zabriskie Point. From the moment Lockwood spots Aimée and follows her in his roadster from a mansion in the hills to a seedy downtown studio, Demy concerns himself with the geographic and architectural diversity of Los Angeles, and how the young people of the era were making it their home. Most of the late-’60s/early-’70s movies that dealt with the American counterculture tended to adopt a tourist’s point of view, treating the long hair, music, drugs, and revolutionary rhetoric as curiosities—to be feared or forgiven. Whatever the failings of Model Shop, it’s one of the few movies about L.A. in the ’60s that doesn’t feel like a re-enactment. 

Availability: Model Shop is available on DVD from Sony.

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