It opens with a dash of Jean-Pierre Melville (a Frenchman with Stetson hat, shades and stogie), then Beethoven and a Cadillac fill the Cinemascope rectangle and Jacques Demy emerges, fully formed. Nantes is the port of dreams, the bistro is a confessional for yearning youngsters and histrionic dames, the cathedral is a theater playing Gary Cooper movies. "I do dream a bit," the aspiring musician (Marc Michel) admits shyly, frustrated with his earthbound job. Moments after quitting, he runs into the heartbreaker from his childhood (Anouk Aimée), who now dons top hat, fur boa and foot-long cigarette holder as Lola the chanteuse. Despite her cabaret wriggling, Sternbergian moniker and fling with an American sailor (Alan Scott), she’s really a marshmallow, Marilyn-breathy, scattered, generous, and forever faithful to the beau who disappeared years ago (Jacques Harden). Elsewhere, a 14-year-old mini-Lola (Annie Duperoux) experiences her own novice heart pangs, the sort of emotion that makes the camera go all slow-mo at the fairgrounds. First love, rekindled love, lost love. It was originally planned as a splashy color musical until the realities of the budget intruded, but Demy isn’t deterred: Raoul Coutard gives the blanched tones an almost radioactive glow, the actors slide and swoon with an almost choreographed lilt. The imperialist Yanks in this New Wave landscape are courtly mementos from MGM musicals, Elina Labourdette as Duperoux’s mom isn’t just a former dancer, but also the same swan from the Cocteau-Bresson Les Dames du Bois Boulogne. The Ophüls question ("Quelle heure est-il?") is always in the air, along with the tilting, craning and tracking that link and sever feelings. "There’s happiness in simply wanting happiness," sighs Lola, who’s rewarded with an only-in-the-movies happy ending that barely skirts feyness thanks to Demy’s triste-harlequin understanding that one character’s happiness might be another’s melancholy. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg picks up the tune, Une Femme est une Femme is the purposely scratchy B-side track. Music by Michel Legrand. With Margo Lion, Catherine Lutz, Corinne Marchand, and Yvette Anziani. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce