I haven’t been too keen on the idea of a foreign-language musical, mostly because the only ones on the list are by Jacques Demy, and they’ve so far let me down a bit, mostly because of how unconventional they were. With The Young Girls of Rochefort, Demy seems to have finally calmed down a little, enough to direct a traditional musical, even if it’s not nearly enough to avoid the overdose of saccharine sweetness and sensory overload that comes with a Jacques Demy film. The Book uses the phrase “joie de vivre” to describe the sensation that comes across in Rochefort, which translates to “joy of living”, and I include it simply for a lack of a better way to put it; this film is joyous to a ridiculous degree, though put side-by-side with some other English musicals it might seem a little tamer.
The young girls of the title are twin sisters Delphine and Solange, who are involved in arts education and who both long for a suitor to sweep them off their feet and out of their town. At the same time as a town fair is coming to the main square, the arrival of two self-described carnies, Etienne and Bill, would seem to be the opportunity in disguise the sisters have been waiting for. There’s several subplots as well, such as the sister’s mother Yvonne (who owns a cafe in the central square that serves as a focal point for the characters’ interactions) attempting to reconnect with a long-lost fiance, as well as would-be secondary suitors to the sisters meeting them and falling in love, one of which is played by Gene Kelly, that all revolve around the main plot over the course of a weekend in the titular town of Rochefort. This was a much more straightforward musical than The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; where that film opted for a complete sung-through approach, this instead had musical numbers interspersed with the regular dialogue of the film. Granted, there were a heck of a lot of them, and a lot that weren’t even musical numbers but dance sequences set to music, but the familiar form of a tried-and-true musical was much more welcome than Demy’s previous efforts to be out-of-the-box. The other notable aspect was the use of color, mostly shades of white and whitened hues of other colors, to add to the exuberance of the film’s mood. The songs, amusingly enough, seemed to be somewhat one-note, being a little too similar to each other for me to really tell them apart. The overdubbing however, for once if at all, was actually quite well done; if it weren’t for the studio quality of the singing, I’d have bet that the singing had all been done during filming.
The melodies are stereotypically toe-tapping, and there’s more songs than the film knows what to do with, but this was nice, if, at the very least, in small doses; two hours seemed to be a bit too much to handle all at once. The Book makes a point in saying that this film will “make you happier than almost any other film”, and goes on to mention the constant joy that the film is stuffed with. I won’t disagree, but I will defer in this film’s relation to its predecessor; Cherbourg seemed, to me, much more filled-with-happiness than even this one was, even with the somewhat sad nature of the story at times. It must have been the sung-through aspect that puts it over this one in my mind, but make no mistakes; this has more happiness in its two hours than you’ll know what to do with. If that’s enough to put it on the list, then it’s enough, but aside from being a rare example of a foreign musical, this didn’t stand out very much from the other English-language musicals on the list.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10