Wednesday, January 20, 2016

#719: Une chambre en ville

(Jacques Demy, 1982)

Une chambre en ville is yet another wonderful example of the 1980s being unable to stand in for any other time period. Here, the 50s gets run through the 80s warp, but survives nicely enough. After all, this is not a movie you are going to mistake for reality any time soon - unless you and your friends go around singing instead of talking to each other.

I was going to explain my response to the film as it went on in this post, but then I read Aaron West's post on his Criterion Blues site and discovered that he had already had the exact same reaction to the singing and subsequent engrossing plot. There's nothing especially noteworthy about the story here, but it's told with just enough twists and turns to keep even the most violently anti-musical viewer interested. Like Aaron, I think the film loses something without the inclusion of Michel Legrand as composer, though I do think there are some strong recurring melodies here and the music never grates. I was much more involved in the intimate scenes of music, as it was pretty difficult to buy into the singing riot (musicals, amiright?) and casual speak-singing. But after about 30 minutes, I stopped caring too much about the fact that everyone was singing and just enjoyed the ride.

There is a huge gap between Donkey Skin and this movie in real time, easily the largest in the Criterion box. Demy made six features that are not included in the set. His first four films are in the box, but they jump over Model Shop, which is out of print but in English and owned by Sony, likely why it is not included here despite being a sequel of sorts to Lola. After Donkey Skin, the director's sixth film, Demy made three films before Une chambre en ville, one of which was in English and another two that don't get very good reviews (though A Slightly Pregnant Man seems to be considered a slight romp), and two films after, one of which was a documentary of sorts on Yves Montand. So on paper, Une chambre en ville fits together with the other films in this set better than anything else he made in the 70s or 80s. So the question is not why this one and not another, but rather why this one at all?

I think Criterion saw in Une chambre en ville a chance to look at Demy's late career approach to filmmaking that was largely informed by his previous work. The film doesn't just share the musical genre with most of his first run of films. The setting in Nantes is present, as are the technicolor palette (though it's intentionally subdued here) and the chance meetings that find the characters crossing paths (really only present here with Edith and Francois). Criterion has been dedicated to releasing later works by their core auteurs since the beginning, even if they are of lesser quality when compared to the masterpieces from the same directors. And the Ship Sails On, The Last Metro, and Identification of a Woman were all made around the same time as Une chambre en ville, and all are more noteworthy for how they inform earlier works by the same director than for their quality. Unlike those films, I don't think Demy's would have received a standalone release if they did not have enough films for this box available, but Demy is also less significant as a director than Fellini, Truffaut, or Antonioni (which is hardly an insult). As a work that sums up the films that came before it and works as a final standout of the director's career, however, it's a fine addition to the box and worthy of its spine number.

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