French director Jacques Demy didn’t just make movies—he created an entire cinematic world. Demy launched his glorious feature filmmaking career in the sixties, a decade of astonishing invention in his national cinema. He stood out from the crowd of his fellow New Wavers, however, by filtering his self-conscious formalism through deeply emotional storytelling. Fate and coincidence, doomed love, and storybook romance surface throughout his films, many of which are further united by the intersecting lives of characters who either appear or are referenced across titles. Demy’s films—which range from musical to melodrama to fantasia—are triumphs of visual and sound design, camera work, and music, and they are galvanized by the great stars of French cinema at their centres, including Anouk Aimée, Catherine Deneuve, and Jeanne Moreau. The works collected here, made from the sixties to the eighties, touch the heart and mind in equal measure.
Demy's crystalline debut gave birth to the fictional universe in which so many of his characters would live, play, and love. It’s among his most profoundly felt films, a tale of crisscrossing lives in Nantes (Demy’s hometown) that floats on waves of longing and desire. Heading the film’s ensemble is the enchanting Anouk Aimée (8 1/2) as the title character, a cabaret chanteuse; she’s awaiting the return of a long-lost lover and unwilling to entertain the adoration of another love-struck soul, the wanderer Roland (Le trou’s Marc Michel). Humane, wistful, and witty, Lola is a testament to the resilience of the heartbroken.
Bay of Angels
This precisely wrought, emotionally penetrating romantic drama from Demy, set largely in the casinos of Nice, is a visually lovely but darkly pragmatic investigation into love and obsession. A bottle-blonde Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim) is at her blithe best as a gorgeous gambling addict, and Claude Mann (Army of Shadows) is the bank clerk drawn into her risky world. Featuring a glittering score by Michel Legrand, Bay of Angels is among Demy’s most sombre works.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
An angelically beautiful Catherine Deneuve (Belle de jour) was launched into stardom by this glorious musical heart tugger from Demy. She plays an umbrella-shop owner’s delicate daughter, glowing with first love for a handsome garage mechanic, played by Nino Castelnuovo (The English Patient). When the boy is shipped off to fight in Algeria, the two lovers must grow up quickly. Exquisitely designed in a kaleidoscope of colors, and told entirely through the lilting songs of the great composer Michel Legrand, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the most revered and unorthodox movie musicals of all time.
The Young Girls of Rochefort
Demy followed up The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with another musical about missed connections and second chances, this one a more effervescent confection. Twins Delphine and Solange, a dance instructor and a music teacher (played by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac), dream of big-city life; when a fair comes through their quiet port town, so does the possibility of escape. With its jazzy Michel Legrand score, pastel paradise of costumes, and divine supporting cast (George Chakiris, Grover Dale, Danielle Darrieux, Michel Piccoli, and Gene Kelly), The Young Girls of Rochefort is a tribute to Hollywood optimism from sixties French cinema’s preeminent dreamer.
In this lovingly crafted, wildly quirky adaptation of a classic French fairy tale, Demy casts Catherine Deneuve as a princess who must go into hiding as a scullery maid in order to fend off an unwanted marriage proposal— from her own father, the king (Orpheus’s Jean Marais)! A topsy-turvy riches-to-rags fable featuring songs by Michel Legrand, Donkey Skin creates a tactile fantasy world that’s perched on the border between the earnest and the satiric, and features Delphine Seyrig (Last Year at Marienbad) in a delicious supporting role as a fashionable fairy godmother.
Une Chambre en Ville
In this musical melodrama set against the backdrop of a workers’ strike in Nantes, Dominique Sanda (The Conformist) plays a young woman who wishes to leave her brutish fiancé (Contempt's Michel Piccoli) for an earthy steelworker (The Valet’s Richard Berry), though he is engaged to another. Unbeknownst to the girl, the object of her affection boards with her no-nonsense baroness mother (The Earrings of Madame de . . .’s Danielle Darrieux). A late-career triumph from Jacques Demy, Une Chambre en Ville received nine César Award nominations and features a rich, operatic score by Michel Colombier (Purple Rain).
New 2K digital restorations of all six films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays of Lola and Bay of Angels and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 surround soundtracks on the Blu-rays of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Donkey Skin, and Une chambre en ville
Two documentaries by filmmaker Agnès Varda: The World of Jacques Demy (1995) and The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993)
Four short films by director Jacques Demy: Les Horizons Morts (1951), Le Sabotier du Val de Loire (1956), Ars (1959), and La Luxure (1962)
Jacques Demy A to Z, a new visual essay by film critic James Quandt
Two archival interviews from French television with Demy and composer Michel Legrand, one on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the other on The Young Girls of Rochefort
French television interview from 1962 with actor Jeanne Moreau on the set of Bay of Angels
Once Upon a Time . . . “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” a 2008 documentary
French television program about the making of Donkey Skin
Donkey Skin Illustrated, a video program on the many versions of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale
Donkey Skin and the Thinkers, a video program on the themes of the film, featuring critic Camille Tabouley
New video conversation with Demy biographer Jean-Pierre Berthomé and costume designer Jacqueline Moreau
New interviews with author Marie Colmant and film scholar Rodney Hill
Q&A with Demy from the 1987 Midnight Sun Film Festival, as well as an audio Q&A with him from the American Film Institute in 1971
Archival audio recordings of interviews with Demy, Legrand, and actor Catherine Deneuve at the National Film Theatre in London
Interview with actor Anouk Aimée conducted by Varda in 2012
Interview from 2012 with Varda on the origin of Lola’s song
Video programs on the restorations of Lola, Bay of Angels, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Une chambre en ville
New English subtitle translations
PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by critics Ginette Vincendeau, Terrence Rafferty, Jim Ridley, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Anne Duggan, and Geoff Andrew, and a postscript by Berthomé