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Jacques Demy, La Baie des Anges

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Jacques Demy, La Baie des Anges [Bay of Angels], Jeanne Moreau, Claude Mann (1963, U.S. DVD release on December 9, 2003)
Claude Mann and Jeanne Moreau, La Baie des Anges, 1963
Here is the trouble with La Baie des Anges: it doesn't seem right, a Jacques Demy movie without music. Movies about gambling, an addiction that holds absolutely no attraction for me, mystify me. People seem so surprised when they lose. It doesn't make sense. It took me a while to understand how this movie fit in with the rest of Demy's œuvre, since there is no singing or dancing, and the characters don't seem to fit the Demy mold. The male lead, Jean Fournier (Claude Mann), is a cipher, a young man who works in a bank and gets the gambling bug because a friend brings him along to a casino. I realized eventually that Demy was really fascinated with the female lead, Jackie Demaistre (Jeanne Moreau), a trainwreck of a woman with whom Fournier becomes entangled. She is impulsive, glamorous, flighty, dangerous, and in complete denial about her own helplessness. Jeanne Moreau, her hair died platinum blonde and her face heavily made up, is a drowning woman. Let's face it: no one can blame Fournier for falling under her spell.

Also on Ionarts:

Jacques Demy, Lola (March 4, 2006)

L'univers de Jacques Demy (January 17, 2006)

Peau d'âne (December 27, 2005)

Michel Legrand Interview (August 26, 2005)

La Deneuve in Cannes (May 13, 2005)

Le Jazz in Saint-Germain (May 8, 2005)

Agnès Varda, Jacquot de Nantes (February 19, 2005)
Made in 1963, the movie falls between Lola (1961) and the famous Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), which resemble each other much more than Bay of Angels. There is no sense of whimsy and even little comedy. The movie is oddly serious, for Jacques Demy. The shots inside the lesser casinos, first at Enghien and then at Nice (the title is the name of the bay of Nice), are not particularly remarkable. In fact, they mostly seem to point out just how sad and shabby casinos can be. After losing all their money on a series of pointless bets, the couple hit a streak of luck and walk away with a suitcase full of cash. Here is where the movie hits its stride, as they buy formal clothes and a tiny used white convertible and hit the road for Monte Carlo. Naturally, they lose everything.

In L'univers de Jacques Demy, Agnès Varda claims that her husband got interested in gambling when they went to Cannes -- her film Cléo de 5 à 7 (1961) was up for an award. He went into the casino, never having seen a roulette table in his life. He bet once on the number 17 and won big. In the movie Jackie and Jean play only roulette, and 17 is Jackie's "lucky number." Never mind that she loses more money on 17 than what she wins. Precisely because the movie is not like the movies that Jacques Demy is known for, it is the favorite movie of the director's son, Mathieu. Varda gave a fair amount of time in her film to Jeanne Moreau -- still blonde, still smoking -- who spoke of her memories of Demy's methods. He controlled everything: what the actors wore, exactly what they said (he insisted on fidelity to his screenplay) and how they said it.

I certainly enjoyed watching this movie, but I am not sure if I will want to watch it again anytime soon. As with Lola, the ending is abrupt and, although perhaps slightly ambiguous, it rang false. Still, definitely recommended for its visual beauty.

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