May 9, 2022
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Jacques Demy
Stars: Francoise Dorleac; Catherine Deneuve, George Chakiris

What it's about. Set in the picturesque (and freshly repainted) French village of Rochefort. Etienne (George Chakiris) and Bill (Grover Dale) are briefly in town to put on a show. They hire twin sisters, composer Francois Dorleac and dancer Catherine Deneuve, to perform in their show.

But much of the action takes place in the cafe of Danielle Darrieux, the mother of Dorleac and Deneuve. There, all the cast of any consequence shows up, except for Gene Kelly, who has only a few scenes, and Michel Piccoli, who can't show up because it would spoil the final reel reunion with Darrieux.

There's painter-sailor Jacques Perrin, who raves on about the "feminine ideal" he's never met. There's Darrieux's mischevious preteenaged brat Bouboo (Patrick Jeantet). And cutie waitress Josette (Genevieve Thenier). And curmudgeon Henri Cremieux, whom no one suspects as a hacksaw murderer. And Darrieux's father Rene Pascal, who commandeers a cafe table all day while perfecting his never finished model airplane.

How others will see it. The well-regarded Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand did manage an Oscar nomination, for Best Music. Otherwise, the movie was surprisingly ignored at most cinema festivals. It was a box office hit in France, and presumably played for some time in Rochefort. In America, where an English-dubbed version was released, the film was a flop.

Today at, the film has 10K user votes, a more than respectable total. The user rating is quite high at 7.7 out of 10. But the user ratings decline with advancing age of the viewer, from 8.0 under age 30, to 7.4 among women over 45. The user reviews overflow with admiration for this offbeat obscurity with colorful sets and world-class music and dancing.

How I felt about it. A recent obituary for Jacques Perrin inspired me to see this unusual Jacques Demy production. Perrin played the blond sailor ever in search of his "feminine ideal," never mind that the waitress at the cafe he frequents, Josette, is the hottest and sweetest girl in town, and impossibly unattached.

But at least Perrin lived to be 80. This was longer than director Demy, who was taken by the AIDS epidemic at the age of 59, and much longer than Catherine Deneuve's co-star and real-life sister Francoise Dorleac, who died only three months after The Young Girls of Rochefort was released. Her rental car flipped and caught on fire during a hurried trip to the airport to make a flight.

The Young Girls of Rochefort is one of those movies you found preposterous as a teenager. Why is everyone singing and dancing all the time? How can a couple that has just met sing a love duet together, while dancing in unison? How can the English-subtitled lyrics rhyme when the songs are written in French?

Demy certainly didn't wonder about such things, since after all, there are already a great many movies about new romantic couples who don't sing and dance. And most of them aren't that good, so why not make something different. Especially since Demy's earlier film (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) was just as innovative, and highly successful.

Never mind that an elderly man who could hardly ascend a flight of stairs is revealed as a mass murderer with a hacksaw. Never mind that Gene Kelly is more than twice Dorleac's age. Never mind that Josette wouldn't decide to go on a 400 mile trip to Paris without bringing at least three suitcases.

We are even to believe that Michel Piccoli and Danielle Darrieux still pine for each other after 25 years. And even if Catherine Deneuve is Jacques Perrin's feminine ideal, that doesn't mean she has any interest in unemployed former sailors. And Gene Kelly should watch the road when he's driving. Look what happend to Dorleac.

The movie was clearly filmed as a silent, with all the dialogue, songs, and music dubbed in later. It doesn't matter. None of it does. The costumes and sets are colorful, the choreography is impressive, Michel Legrand is a major talent, and the charm overpowers all.