(In French, On TV, December 2018) Just as I was tempted to dismiss writer/director Jacques Demy on the basis of the unbearable Les parapluies de Cherbourg, here comes the much better Les demoiselles de Rochefort to redeem it all. This far improved follow-up fixes my two biggest annoyances with the previous film: Much of the dialogue is spoken rather than sung, and it does feature a happy ending (even though it’s by mere seconds—the film does toy with its audience toward the end, perhaps keenly aware that those having seen Les parapluies de Cherbourg almost expected an unhappy ending.) That alone could have been enough to make it a good movie, but then it goes the extra mile. Not only does it feature a young gorgeous Catherine Deneuve and her sister Françoise Dorléac, but here is no less than Gene Kelly (visibly older, but still capable) walking in for a few scenes and a dance number. Very, very colourful, Les demoiselles de Rochefort makes the best of its coastal-town setting, starting with an elevated bridge dance sequence, then spending much of its time in a public square with a fantastically glassed-in café set. There’s a little bit of atonal weirdness when it turns out that there’s an axe murderer (!) hanging around, but otherwise the film is far more successful than its predecessor. “Chanson des Jumelles” is a great, memorable number, but it’s really the cheerful colourful atmosphere of the film that wins audiences over. I happened upon the movie by chance, playing as it was in the middle of the night on an unlikely TV channel, and almost gave it a pass. Only Gene Kelly’s name drew me in, and I’m glad it did—Les demoiselles de Rochefort is now one of my favourite French films of the 1960s, which is saying something considering the strengths of the decade for French cinema.
(On Cable TV, May 2018) I’m still not too sure what to make of writer/director Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. I was bored for most of it, not because it’s a dull movie (it does feature a protagonist going murderously crazy) but because it seems like fifteen minutes of plot stuffed in an hour and a half movie. Once the protagonist’s slide into madness begins and the film reflects her inner reality, there aren’t that many places to go, and much of the rest of the film films both repetitive and preordained. To be fair, the film is effective, and perhaps for no better reason than star Catherine Deneuve herself: She looks like a porcelain doll at the beginning of the film, but there are incredible issues boiling behind her perfect façade—as superficial as it sounds, the film would have been a far lesser one with a less beautiful actress or one with a more aggressive kind of beauty. I’m tempted to think that movies have also moved on since 1965—the kind of subjective-perspective show of a schizophrenic breakdown has been remade so often since then that it has lost much of its shock. No matter the reason, I’m cool (but not cold) about Repulsion—it still works fine as a psychological thriller, but it probably could have been better by cleaning up the script and removing thirty minutes from it.