The Bay of Angels (Jacques Demy / France, 1963):
(La Baie des Anges)

So existential, so romantic... Jeanne Moreau, platinum like Marilyn and exhaling a fierce puff of smoke, provides the introductory mirage of movie-movie glamour; Jacques Demy fastens on the image then pulls back in a dizzying reverse tracking shot across the Riviera, Michel Legrand's score hurtles exultantly. Moreau is a casino habitué guided by impulses, fixated on "the mystery of numbers... chance." The gambler's road is one of highs and lows, one moment she's rushing to buy a new convertible and the next she's sleeping on an armchair in the room of a man she's just met. The Parisian clerk (Claude Mann) is on the run from averageness, still alarmed at how quickly the roulette wheel changes fortunes. The two are contrasting poles -- spontaneous versus prudent, flashy versus austere -- locked in shared obsession and faith in humanity's slot machines. Demy can look at Bob le Flambeur and see its lush gaiety, and, furthermore, look at Ocean's Eleven and see its scabrous seriousness. He pats his icon's blanched bouffant and lights her cigarette, but insouciance barely hides sadness: The heroine's gambling frees her from conventions but also ensnares her emotions ("I've got the feeling I have gambled him away," she flatly says of her estranged son). The great beauty of it is the way the croupier's spiraling wheel becomes a metaphor not for life's randomness, but for its lack of permanence, its riskiness. A hardened demimondaine can bet on a number and suddenly abandon it to dash after her beloved, an ecstatic ending a few films later revealed as the cause of another heroine's melancholy. "Luck never gives, it only lends," it is said. Cinematography by Jean Rabier. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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