Now that musicals are getting popular again, it's a good time to revisit the work of Jacques Demy. Although he is considered part of the French new wave, most of his work owes more to Hollywood musicals and live-action fairy-tale films. His first musical (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) might be called an opera, as every bit of dialogue is sung. Made in 1964, it could pass for a traditional take on the musical genre. Things got a little wilder in 1967 with his musical The Young Girls of Rochefort. It is a riot of white go-go boots, and limbs-akimbo hysteria. There are flash mobs on YouTube of people recreating scenes in which the entire town is frantically dancing. Until his death of AIDS in 1990, he was cranking out increasingly gonzo variations on the musical genre. In one of these, '60s music icon Donovan plays the Pied Piper. There is a musical set in a parking garage. His second weirdest film is a Japanese-French co-production called Lady Oscar. It is based on a Manga about a girl who is raised as a boy, and ends up as a personal guard to Marie Antoinette.
Unfortunately, to see most of his oeuvre, you'll need a multi-region DVD player or a hefty budget. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can catch the most gonzo scenes from his work. And special gratitude to the Thai YouTube poster who has put his strangest film online, complete with English subtitles. (Although this film was recently officially in print in the U.S.) The cheapest copy on Amazon goes for over $80 and the most expensive one is over $3,700. What could possibly cause a DVD to go so high? Perhaps one might offer that Peau d'Ane (1970) is the strangest musical ever made. It features a singing parrot.
In the 1960s Catherine Deneuve was a very game actress. For Bunuel, she played a bored wife who whores herself out for kicks, and an unsympathetic amputee. Polanski savaged her in Repulsion. Despite her reputation for risky roles, nothing prepared the world for the sight of her running through the forest in a dirty nightshirt covered with the carcass of a donkey. Despite this weirdness, it became Demy's highest-grossing film.
The plot is a variation on Cinderella, but the actual story as portrayed in the film is pretty true to the fairy tale it is based on. A king (Jean Marias, Cocteau's lover) is bereft at the death of his wife. His wife made it her dying wish that he marry a woman as beautiful as her. The only woman who fits this bill is his daughter (Deneuve) who he vows to marry. Her fairy godmother (Delphine Seyrig!) advises her to make irrational demands (dress the color of the sky and sun) that include killing his donkey that excretes gold and jewels. It is disguised in the skin of the donkey that she makes her escape into an opus that has yet to be topped in the category of: What's wrong with this picture?
book review: Breakfast With Lucian