The Young Girls of Rochefort
Jacques Demy followed up The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with another musical about missed connections and second chances, this one a more effervescent confection. Twins Delphine and Solange, a dance instructor and a music teacher (played by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac), dream of big-city life; when a fair comes through their quiet port town, so does the possibility of escape. With its jazzy Michel Legrand score, pastel paradise of costumes, and divine supporting cast (George Chakiris, Grover Dale, Danielle Darrieux, Michel Piccoli, and Gene Kelly), The Young Girls of Rochefort is a tribute to Hollywood optimism from sixties French cinema’s preeminent dreamer.
Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort gets its own Blu-ray edition from Criterion after being released exclusively in their own dual-format box set The Essential Jacques Demy. The film is again presented on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in a 1080p/24hz high-definition digital presentation. The restoration comes from a 2K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Not surprisingly Criterion has appeared to have simply ported the box set’s Blu-ray disc over to this release; I can’t detect any discernable difference between the two editions, and in fact my player thought they were the same disc, picking up right where I left off when I would switch back and forth. Like Umbrellas of Cherbourg this is a very colourful musical, though not as elaborate. Where Cherbourg’s scenes presented a wide variety of colours scene-to-scene, Rochefort presents predominantly white backgrounds with colourful costumes and objects in the foreground. Still, despite a slightly warmer tone to the overall picture, whites look good, never blooming, and the colours in the foregrounds are still bright a vibrant, though maybe a bit over-saturated (could be intentional to the look of the film, though). Black levels also look pretty accurate, and I didn’t have any concerns with crushing.
Detail levels are good, though the image can be a little softer on long shots, the fine details not popping like they do in closer shots. Film grain is rendered well and the image on the whole provides a very filmic experience. Restoration work has also been quite thorough as I didn’t notice any significant damage. Overall it’s still very pleasing.
Again the film only comes with a 5.1 surround (there is no monaural option) but it’s a really good one, presented in DTS-HD MA. Dialogue is primarily present through the center channel but the musical numbers are mixed nicely between all of the speakers, enveloping the viewer. The mix of these musical numbers also deliver a wide range as well as excellent clarity and fidelity, sounding like these numbers could have been recorded recently instead of over 50 years ago. The straight dialogue scenes don’t have the same dynamics to them and come off flat in comparison, but on the whole the audio is impressive.
This release contains all of the same supplements found in the release included with the box set. The features start off with an archival interview featuring the director, again from an episode of the French program Cinéma. It features Demy and composer Michel Legrand working on the music for the film, trying to figure out how the dance numbers will work and how to end the song correctly, the latter of which becomes a rather touchy subject between the two. They then both sit down to talk about the film and their desire to make a more traditional musical and how they collaborate. It runs 11-minutes.
Criterion has then recorded a new discussion between film scholar Jean-Pierre Berthome and costume designer Jacqueline Moreau, widow of one of Demy’s frequent collaborators, production designer Bernard Evein. During the 26-minute conversation the two discuss Demy’s and her husband’s work together. She recalls how she first met Demy and then their early work together, particularly The Umbrellas of Cherbourg which presented a particular challenge due to the colours that Demy wanted: the basically had to break down every scene in the film and plan the colour schemes precisely for each so nothing would clash. She then talks about her husband’s work, focusing mostly on The Young Girls of Rochefort as they go through his concept drawings.
That interview starts out fairly dry but picks up as it goes. Much better (and competing for best feature on the disc) is a 1966 episode from the French television program Behind the Screen, focusing on the making of The Young Girls of Rochefort. This 35-minute episode spends a lot of time looking at the film’s production design and includes a fairly extensive interview with Bernard Evein, who covers the work they’re doing and gives a great overview of what a production designer does and how one works with the director. There’s also an interview with producer Mag Bopard and a rather intriguing one with the mayor of Rochefort, who talks about some of the issues that came up with letting the crew in and some of the things he’s really enjoyed (like overhearing the musical numbers during work hours.) Local businesses really benefitted from the production, getting free paint jobs and repairs for the film. Most intriguing, though, is behind-the-scenes footage of the twins’ musical number: we actually get to see the musical number performed in both French and English. I wasn’t actually aware of an English version of the film and doing online research didn’t actually yield much about it, but just seeing this footage was a real treat. This was a great find on Criterion’s part, but what’s disappointing about it is that it’s only the second episode of what was apparently a six-part run, so it’s a bit of a letdown not to see the rest of the material since this lone episode suggests a wonderfully engaging behind-the-scenes piece.
Also a strong addition is the 1993 documentary The Young Girls Turn 25. The 66-minute documentary, directed by Demy’s widow Agnes Varda, revisits Rochefort during a festival celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film. She captures plenty of the festivities while also getting interviews with many of the locals and members of the cast and crew (including Deneuve) who all recall the experience. It also shows more English footage from a musical number. It had a profound impact on the town and the documentary really captures that and is all the more fun because of it. As a nice bonus it has also been beautifully restored, where even the production footage looks amazing. It’s also delivered in 1080p/24hz, and looks about as good as the main feature. A great inclusion.
The supplements then close with a the re-release trailer for the film. Surprisingly there is no restoration demonstration to be found.
Criterion also separates out Jonathan Rosenbaum’s essay from the box set’s booklet to an insert included here, going over this very French take on American musicals.
There’s obviously material missing (the rest of that television making-of, and more footage from the English version) but what remains is fantastic.
If you already own the Demy box set there is no need to pick this up: as far as I can tell it is the exact same disc. For those who passed on the set yet are looking to own this film, Criterion delivers a really sharp release. Sporting a strong A/V presentation and some wonderful, insightful supplements, this edition is an easy recommendation.