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Case Number 27657: Small Claims Court

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The Essential Jacques Demy (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection

Lola
1961 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Bay Of Angels
1963 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg
1964 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
The Young Girls Of Rochefort
1967 // 126 Minutes // Not Rated
Donkey Skin
1970 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Une Chambre En Ville
1982 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Criterion
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 22nd, 2014

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All Rise...

Welcome to the castle of Judge Gordon Sullivan, the French bastard!

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Donkey Skin (Peau d'Ane) (published May 23rd, 2005), Fassbinder's BRD Trilogy: Criterion Collection (published November 17th, 2003), and The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (published May 5th, 2004) are also available.

The Charge

"An entire cinematic world."

Opening Statement

The French New Wave gave us a handful of world famous directors. If asked, most people can summon the names of Jean-Luc Godard and Fran çois Truffaut. More knowledgeable movie fans might then reach for Alain Resnais or Eric Rohmer. Some might even pull out allied filmmakers like Chris Marker or Agn è s Varda. Often forgotten in connection with the movement, though, is Jacques Demy. Though a couple of his films are fondly remembered classics, he often isn't given the due his contemporaries frequently are. That's pretty understandable as Godard is relentlessly experimental, delivering masterpiece after masterpieces that pay homage to Hollywood without feeling beholden to it. Truffaut seeks a particularly rich interiority with his romantic leanings. Resnais keeps up a rigorous formalism, while even Rhomer made films that audiences could connect with. Demy, in contrast, seemed to take all of the best qualities of his colleagues and combine them into his own vision that put Hollywood and fairy tales on the same gorgeously framed plane. His reputation has been slowly rehabilitated since his death in 1990, and now thanks to Criterion's frankly fantastic box set The Essential Jacques Demy, fans new and old can (re)discover this master of the French New Wave.

Facts of the Case

The Essential Jacques Demy gathers six of the director's features (about half the films he helmed).

Lola
A group of young people in Nantes drift in and out of one another's lives, seeking love. Lola (Anouk Aim ée, La Dolce Vita) is a cabaret dancer spending time with American Frankie (Alan Scott, Ladies Man) when she really misses the love of her life (Jacques Harden, Gervaise). Meanwhile, Roland (Marc Michel, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) remembers that he's in love with Lola, and all their lives are complicated.

Bay of Angels
Jean (Claude Mann, Army of Shadows) goes to a casino one day with gambler Caron (Paul Guers, The Twilight Girls). When Jean wins big, Caron persuades him to try even bigger casions, from Nice to Monte Carlo. Along the way they meet Jackie (Jeanne Moreau, Elevator to the Gallows), who appears to be on the way down just as Jean is on the way up.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
In this musical, Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve, Belle du Jour) is a young shop girl whose mother wants her to marry a wealthy man so she can keep her shop. Geneviève, meanwhile, has designs on Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). Then the conflict in Algeria upsets everyone's plans.

The Young Girls of Rochefort
Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac are sisters living in the small town of Rochefort dreaming of love. A number of men (including Gene Kelly!) enter their life and bring love to it.

Donkey Skin
In this fairytale, a dying Queen (Catherine Deneuve) insists her husband remarry, but only someone prettier than her. After a long search, the king discovers the most beautiful young woman in the land (also played by Deneuve). The princess gives the king impossible tasks to prove his intentions before sneaking away from his castle in the skin of a donkey. She retreats to a small village before being discovered by a prince, but his love for her complicates things.

Une Chambre de Ville
A group of characters live in Nantes during the 1950s when a strike paralyzes the city. From a baroness to a dock worker, each discovers something about the others that will alter their lives and relationships.

The Evidence

It's easy to see why Jacques Demy didn't get the same credit as his contemporaries. The Cahiers du Cinema crowd of Godard and Truffaut spent thousands of words trying to convince readers that there was value in Hollywood products, essentially trying to rehabilitate genres like the western for discerning French audiences. Those directors could then incorporate some of those generic elements into their own pastiche-style films, their love tinged with a hint of irony. In contrast, Jacques Demy never seems to think that Hollywood films need rehabilitation. He doesn't want to borrow the elements of the musical (like Godard did with A Woman is a Woman) but instead wants to make his own Hollywood musical, which he did with The Young Girls of Rochefort). Though there's a level of artifice to Demy's work—he's totally in control of the camera, the colors, the staging, etc—he never keeps his subject at an ironic distance. In the 1960s that probably made him look a bit retrograde, but now he looks clear-eyed and prescient. I'm sure that's part of the reason that Criterion has gathered six of his films together in one gorgeous 13-disc set.

The films are arranged in chronological order, and start with Demy's first feature, Lola. As a debut it has a lot of things going for it. First, it establishes Demy's interest in ensemble stories, something he would carry on throughout his career. It also turns some of that New Wave energy onto an ensemble cast. Whereas many of Godard and Truffaut's films are about one or two people navigating the world, Lola shows a much larger cast going through the day-to-day life in France. The fact that it's all captured in wonderful black-and-white by New Wave stalwart Raoul Coutard only adds to the classical feeling of the film. If I have one complaint it's that the film feels a bit too much like a grab bag, like Demy has seen to many films and hasn't found his voice yet. These influences would congeal as a basis for Demy's own vision later, but here they feel a bit all over the place.

Demy would start to leave his own stamp on his favorite genres with his next film, Bay of Angels. It has the kind of jet-set location hopping that would sit perfectly in a Hitchcock film, with all the energy of a road movie wrapped in a noir exterior. But not just any noir exterior; Demy combines the femme fatale and sense of doom with the sun-bleached sights of Monte Carlo. It's a great combination. And if it wasn't obvious from Lola, it certainly is with Bay of Angels: Demy really likes to cast beautiful women as the leads in his film. This time it's Jeanne Moreau, and her iconic blonde hair adds an extra layer of tension to the film.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is an odd follow-up to Bay of Angels. Though the former is sun-drenched and beautiful, its black and white noir-vibe clashes with the sunny, pastel-colored visions of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. However, Demy continues his blending of dark and light. This time, the vehicle of typically saccharine songs is used to tell a story of arranged marriages and the (only recently ended) Algerian war. Demy also continues his collaboration with Michel Legrand, the legendary composer who helps elevate this musical. Add in a simply wonderful performance from Catherine Deneuve and you've got a recipe for a candy-colored confection that packs a pretty big bite.

Since the musical thing worked so well for him with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Demy followed it up with The Young Girls of Rochefort. Here, he doubles down on his love of musicals. Instead of crafting a kind of French take on the genre, Young Girls does its best to be a Vincent Minnelli picture like An American in Paris. Right down to casting Gene Kelly. But it's still a Demy movie as well, with Catherine Deneuve again, chronicling life in the non-Parisian portions of France. There's more ensemble madness, a bit of the melancholy tinge, and more colorful scenery. If it's not quite as dizzying in its joy as Umbrellas, it makes up for it with variety.

Donkey Skin is the one head-scratcher of this bunch. Lola makes sense as a kind of low-budget indie first feature. Bay of Angels keeps the black and white and goes for a noir vibe, which fits. Umbrellas and Young Girls look like left turns in comparison, but they're made so beautifully that they fit pretty naturally in Demy's work. Donkey Skin, though, is an adaptation of a famous French fairy tale and appears several years after Young Girls (and here the set skips a film, The Model Shop). It's a real period film, and hasn't aged quite as well as his other movies. It's got a bit of stately elegance, and establishes an effective fairy tale atmosphere, but it really serves more to highlight Demy's diversity rather than his strengths as a filmmaker.

The set's final film is a bit of a return to form for Demy. Though he made six films after 1970's Donkey Skin, Une Chambre en Ville is the only representative of his later career. I can't speak to what we're not seeing, but as a mark of what the 52 year old Demy could achieve, Chambre is another fine ensemble drama, sung in its entirety like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It goes for that tragic opera vibe and largely succeeds. It is, however, significantly more pessimistic than his previous work, and though everyone strives mightily for the film, it ends up feeling a bit disappointing overall, as it never coheres.

This is a dual-format release from Criterion, meaning we get Blu-ray discs for every feature as well as DVD versions (though in this case there isn't complete overlap between special features, so you need both the Blu-ray and DVD discs to get everything out of this set). With a few understandable exceptions, this set is simply amazing.

• Lola
We can get the bad news out of the way early on. Lola's original negative was lost in a fire, so this 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is sourced from a few prints. It does not look that great, with some damage and digital scrubbing removing much of the detail we expect from hi-def. With that said, it's not as disastrous as some people might think. The film is still watchable, and for a film whose original elements are lost it's not a bad restoration. Black levels are deep enough, and contrast stays pretty solid throughout. The film's LPCM mono track in French is great, better than the picture by far. There are no dropouts or significant hiss/distortion, and Michel Legrande's score gets a surprising amount of room to breathe.

Extras start with a set of short films that Demy made around Lola, including his portion of an omnibus film, The Seven Deadly Sins. We also get a lovely restoration document showing the process that helped rescue Lola from total obscurity. Star Anouk Aimee appears in two short clips being interviewed by Agn è s Varda, and in another moment the pair talk about Lola's song (written by Varda, but interpreted by Aim ée). Finally, the film's re-release trailer is included.

• Bay of Angels
Things improve immediately with Bay of Angels, with a 1.66:1/1080p AVC encoded transfer from the original camera negative. Detail is strong through, with great contrast and solid black levels. The LPCM mono track is just as excellent, offering clean and clear dialogue that's well balanced with Legrand's music.

This film gets an excerpt from a contemporary TV show that runs almost 14 minutes, mainly sticking with Moreau as an interview subject. Another featurette has Demy biographer Marie Colmant discussing the many of Demy's films. We also get another restoration featurette and the film's re-release trailer.

• The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
This 1.66:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is essentially perfect. The digital restoration gives the print a pristine look free of damage. And yet the fine detail and grain hasn't been scrubbed away. Colors are perfectly saturated, especially the delicate pastels. Overall, the film looks great and fans couldn't ask for more. In this case the DTS-HD 5.1 surround track isn't quite as impressive as the visuals, but that's only a slight on the 50 year old source, not the track itself. Singing sounds clean and clear and it's well-balanced with Legrand's wonderful music. The only problem is that it was recorded on older technology so it doesn't quite have the depth and clarity of the most contemporary musical tracks.

Extras kick off here with a 2008 documentary on the making of the film with interviews by all the usual suspects, some new and some archival. A number of interviews are included separately as well: a 1964 TV interview featuring Demy and Legrand, another with Legrand from 1991, and one with Deneuve from 1992 (both of the latter are audio only and recorded at the National Film Theater). We also hear from critic Rodney Hill, who situates Demy squarely with the French New Wave. Finally, we get another restoration demonstration and the film's re-release trailer.

• The Young Girls of Rochefort
Aside from a few flickers, this 2.35:1/1080p AVC encoded transfer is just as good as Umbrellas. The source is similarly free of damage, detail is still preserved, and colors are spot-on. The DTS-HD 5.1 track also ensures that dialogue and songs are clean and clear while distributing Legrand's music around the surrounds.

Extras start with the documentary that helped kick start Demy's re-evaluation, "The Young Girls Turns 25." Combining everything from on-set footage to interviews with the stars and those denizens of Rochefort who were there for filming, the documentary gives a solid picture of the film and its impact. More behind the scenes material is included in an excerpt from a Belgian TV show, and another TV excerpt provides an interview with Demy and Legrand. Costume designer Jacquiline Moreau is featured in another interview that really digs into her collaboration with Demy. There's no restoration demonstration this time, but we do get a trailer.

• Donkey Skin
The film has an odd, dated look to it, but that's not the fault of this 1.66:1/1080p AVC encoded transfer. It too features a pristine source, excellent detail, and fine color rendition. Though it looks pretty drab, the transfer is good and it suits the fairy-tale nature of the film. The film also gets a DTS-HD 5.1 track that keeps dialogue audible and puts the music in the surrounds a bit. It's not a flashy track but it's great for the film.

The extras here largely focus on the fairy tale: we get a 10 minute featurette on the history of various adaptations, while another, longer piece has a group of "thinkers" discuss the tale and its continued appeal. An excerpt from Pour le cin é ma delves into some of the film's production. Finally, we get an audio feature of Demy at the AFI answering questions during a Q&A. Strangely, no trailer is included for this flick.

• Un Chambre de Ville
Though the film isn't always pretty, this 1.66:1/1080p AVC-encoded looks as good as anything else in the set. Colors are appropriately saturated, detail is great, and grain is intact. It's especially impressive in motion, and a great watch overall. The DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track does a fine job with dialogue and music, even if it doesn't fill the surrounds like some of the other tracks.

This film includes the other documentary that Varda made in the early '90s, "The World of Jacques Demy." It's a loving portrait of her husband and a master of cinema. At 90 minutes it provides a great overview of his career and impact. We also get an hour long video essay from James Quandt that uses the alphabet as a device to structure his reflections on Demy and his films. Demy himself appears for a 16 minute Q&A from 1987. We also get another restoration demonstration and the film's trailer.

Each film gets its own fold-up case that all slide into a handsome cardboard sleeve. Also in the sleeve is the usual Criterion booklet. This one runs to 68 pages. Each film gets its own essay from a variety of critics, scholars, and fellow practitioners.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It's a bit expansive for Criterion to call this The Essential Jacques Demy. Though all of the films have something to recommend them, the only truly essential ones, to me at least, are The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. But, that's basically all there is to complain about with this set. In a perfect world Criterion would also release these films (or at least Umbrellas and Young Girls) as separate Blu-ray/DVD editions, but otherwise this set is as perfect as it can be without a time machine to rescue Lola from the flames.

Closing Statement

The films range from simply classic (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) to odd curiosity (Donkey Skin), but together add up a vision of Jacques Demy as a unique voice in the history of world cinema. Criterion have done everything they can to honor that unique voice. Taken singly, each of these films would be a decent edition, but as a set they have even more impact, demonstrating the importance and beauty of Jacques Demy's legacy. Fans of the French New Wave and lovers of musicals should definitely seek this set out. Anyone who has owned a previous edition of any of these films should also feel confident upgrading.

The Verdict

If I could sing it, I would…Not Guilty!

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Genres

• Blu-ray
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Drama
• Foreign
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Scales of Justice, Lola

Judgment: 87

Perp Profile, Lola

Studio: Criterion
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Lola

• Short Films
• Interviews
• Featurette
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Bay Of Angels

Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Bay Of Angels

Studio: Criterion
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Bay Of Angels

• Interviews
• Featurette
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg

Judgment: 98

Perp Profile, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg

Studio: Criterion
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg

• Featurettes
• Interviews
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Young Girls Of Rochefort

Judgment: 97

Perp Profile, The Young Girls Of Rochefort

Studio: Criterion
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Young Girls Of Rochefort

• Featurettes
• Interviews
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Donkey Skin

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Donkey Skin

Studio: Criterion
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Donkey Skin

• Featurettes
• Interviews
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Une Chambre En Ville

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Une Chambre En Ville

Studio: Criterion
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (French)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Une Chambre En Ville

• Featurettes
• Interviews
• Trailer
• Booklet








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