Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

French director Jacques Demy has only won more fans since his death in 1990, thanks mainly to reissues of his musicals The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg and The Young Girls Of Rochefort. But because so many Demy films are unavailable on video, the full measure of his layered, swoony expressionism, banal naturalism, and abstract autobiography has rarely been taken. With his first two films, Lola and Bay Of Angels, now on DVD (enhanced by relevant excerpts from Agnès Varda's 1995 documentary The World Of Jacques Demy), it's easier to admire how Demy balanced the reckless exuberance of the New Wave with the classy polish of the well-made film. Also up for discussion is how his work bumps up against itself. Minor figures in Lola mirror the leads of Umbrellas, while a gambling-addicted family man in Bay Of Angels recalls an off-screen character in Lola. Lola's title character, played by Anouk Aimée, returns in 1969's Model Shop, and Lola's sailors and other homesick travelers recur in The Young Girls Of Rochefort. The industrious vagabond male lead in Lola, Marc Michel, reappears in The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, now a wealthy businessman and in love with Catherine Deneuve, whose past is similar to that of a bit player in Lola. People in Demy films frequently compare those they meet to other people they know, letting the interactions of the moment stand in for the interactions they wish they were having. Demy only made five features in the '60s, but he built an entire world of lonely lovers in waterside cities, missing connections and feeling each moment intensely. In Lola, Michel pines for Aimée, an exotic dancer who marks time with American sailor Alan Scott while waiting for her true love to return. Demy opens the film with an iris out and a dedication to Max Ophuls, and he bathes his characters in soft window light, sketching them as exaggerated romantics, in love with poetry and their own ennui. Bay Of Angels' Claude Mann is similarly swept up, riding a gambling hot streak to a luxury resort, where he meets the ravishing Jeanne Moreau and develops a curious relationship based on irrational exuberance and superstition. Demy boils gambling down to a matter of raw luck rather than skill, using roulette–the cruelest of casino games–and shooting the action with forced perspectives and dissolves to maximize tension on every spin. But in spite of those effects and a stunning opening shot (a rapid backwards dolly down an ocean boardwalk), Bay Of Angels is perhaps Demy's most low-key film, relying mainly on Mann's wide-eyed reactions to the flighty Deneuve, as he figures out how to trust his instincts in romance as well as roulette. When the two are up, they live a life of expensive booze and swanky nightclubs that Mann says he thought only existed "in American movies." It's the kind of high living that only a rich gambler can afford, or that an obsessively detail-driven movie director can lovingly, heartbreakingly fake.