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The Essential Jacques Demy Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Review

The Essential Jacques Demy Blu-ray-DVD Combo Pack

“The Essential Jacques Demy” is another top of the line Criterion release.

When people ask me about the best Blu-ray releases, Criterion titles are always in the mix. Not only does the company release many, many beloved films, but their discs also provide incredible picture and sound quality and TONS of extra features. If you need an example, just check out one of their latest releases “The Essential Jacques Demy.”

In this 6 film set, Criterion pays tribute to the legendary French New Wave director Jacques Demy with a boxed set containing 6 of his best films- “Lola,” “Bay of Angels,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “The Young Girls of Rochefort,” “Donkey Skin,” and “Une Chambre En Ville.” So, what can you expect from the six films? Read on to find out.

First up on this set is “Lola.” The film revolves around a lost, struggling, jobless man (Roland) who reconnects with a former friend (Lola) that is now working as a cabaret dancer. Roland becomes transfixed by Lola (he isn’t the only one), but she only pines for her former lover Michel. Meanwhile, a widow (Madame Desnoyer) falls for Roland, but he simply does not have eyes for her. There’s also a key subplot involving a sailor (Frankie) and Madame’s daughter Cecile.

In comparison to the other Demy films on this set, “Lola” is a very raw work, but I mean that in a good way. It’s a very accomplished and emotional film about longing, happiness, love, heartbreak, the past and growing pains. I also admire the fact that this film is very much a companion piece to “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” as the Roland character is revisited in that film (which I will get to shortly).

Next up is “Bay of Angels.” In this film, the story focuses on a gullible bank clerk (Jean) who becomes interested in legal gambling through a friend (Caron). While on vacation in Nice, he meets a divorced mother (Jackie) who is addicted to gambling. Jean and Jackie begin to fall for one another, but is their relationship doomed?

“Bay of Angels” is not a Demy film that is often talked about and I can understand why. While not a bad film by any means, it’s a bit stiff all around. Only actress Jeanne Moreau livens up this tale about risks, addiction, love, money, escapism, and winning. Without her, I’m not sure the movie would be relevant in this day and age.

There’s little doubt that “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is the crown jewel of this set. To me and many other film buffs, this is positively Demy’s best work (and perhaps Catherine Deneueve’s best work as well). It’s a colorful musical about the tragic love story between an Umbrella shop worker (Genevieve) and an auto mechanic (Guy). I could go into more detail about the story and supporting characters, but this is the type of movie you need to experience for yourself. Now, granted, some folks will not take kindly to every line of dialogue being sung, but if you are open minded and or can get past that fact, you’ll be swept away by this story about young love, dreams, and relationships.

Following ‘Umbrellas’ is another musical titled “The Young Girls of Rochefort.” This exuberant film is about twin sisters (Delphine and Solange) longing for big city life while living in a port town (Rochefort) where they teach music and dancing. ‘Rochefort’ is filled with subplots about a local fair, the sisters’ mother Yvonne and her former husband Simon, Maxence (a sailor, painter, poet) looking for love, an American named Andy, and carnival show workers Etienne and Bill.

While ‘Umbrellas’ was a tearjerker, ‘Rochefort’ is a significantly more peppy ensemble musical about connections, love, and longing. In other words, this musical tackles the typical Demy themes. Admittedly, it’s not as impressive as its predecessor from a story and character perspective, but how can you not be charmed by an ambitious musical that features George Chakiris (of “West Side Story” fame) and the one and only Gene Kelly?

The fifth film on this set is “Donkey Skin.” The story: After the Queen passes away, the King decides to marry his own daughter. His daughter wants nothing to do with him and runs away. While on her own, she meets a Prince and I’m sure you can guess the rest.

While Demy’s other films certainly have fairytale elements, ‘Donkey’ is a full blown fairytale fantasy musical complete with lavish costumes, epic sets, magical characters, colorful production values, musical numbers, a Fairy, and a host of animals. While the incestuous plotline is certainly icky and off putting, this is still a visually stunning oddball music that is worth tuning in for if for no other reason than to see Demy deviate from his usual film work.

Last, but not least is “Une Chambre En Ville” which is another musical in the same vein as ‘Umbrellas.” This one takes place during the workers strike in Nantes in 1955 and revolves around a broke shipyard worker (Francois) on strike. Despite the work issues, Francois has a loving girlfriend (Violetta) who is pregnant with his child. She wants to get married, but Francois is unable to commit. This becomes especially evident when he falls for another woman (Edith) who is in a broken marriage. In a strange twist of fate, Edith also happens to be the daughter of Francois’ wealthy landlady.

Of the 6 films on this set, “Une Chambre En Ville” is by far the darkest. The slightly operatic and complex love story about death, class, love, and politics plays like a twist on “Romeo and Juliet.” While the doomed relationship storyline is certainly par for the course for Demy, it was interesting to see him take it to another level with the underrated ‘Chambre.’ Story aside, ‘Chambre’ also features some truly dazzling visuals courtesy of Jean Penzer’s cinematography and the nifty B&W to color transition at the start of the film.


Presentation: 1.85:1 1080p for “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” 1.66:1 for “Bay of Angels,” “Donkey Skin,” and “Une Chambre En Ville,” and 2.35:1 1080p for “Lola” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort.” How do the films look? Considering all 6 films have been given 2K digital restorations, the results are surprisingly a bit mixed. Despite some print flaws ‘Rochefort,’ ‘Donkey,’ ‘Chambre,’ and ‘Umbrellas’ all look very colorful while the transfers for “Lola” and ‘Bay’ are fuzzy, grainy, and littered with dirt specs.

Audio Tracks: French 5.1 DTS-HD MA for ‘Umbrellas,’ ‘Donkey,’ and ‘Rochefort,’ French Uncompressed Mono tracks for “Lola,” and ‘Bay,’ and finally a French 2.0 DTS-HD MA track for ‘Chambre.’ How do the films sound? The 5.1 tracks obviously pack the most punch here given that they have the very best sound quality of the lot. “Lola” and ‘Bay’ sound like typically flat Mono track films and ‘Chambre’ sounds lively with the 2.0 track.

* Trailers for “Lola,” “Bay of Angels,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “The Young Girls of Rochefort,” and “Une Chambre En Ville.”
* A booklet containing an essay about each of the six films in this set by Professor Ginette Vincendeau, author Terrence Rafferty, film critic Jim Ridley, film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, Professor Anne E. Duggan, and film critic Geoff Andrew. A piece about Jacques Demy and Nantes by Professor Jean-Pierre Berthome is also included
* Restorsation demonstrations for “Lola,” “Bay of Angels,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Un Chambre En Ville.”
* A 22 minute interview with film scholar Rodney Hill about “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” French New Wave, Demy, etc.
* “Cinepanorama”- An episode of the French TV series that contains interviews with Jacques Demy and composer Michel Legrand.
* Two separate audio interviews with Michel Legran and Catherine Deneuve at the National Film Theatre.
* Once Upon A Time…”The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”- A 54 minute 2008 documentary about “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” that contains newly shot interviews, archival interviews, still photos, conversations about the film, film clips, and much more.
* A “Cinepanorama” episode featuring an interview with Jeanne Moreau from the “Bay of Angels” sets.
* A 10 minute interview with author Marie Colmant about Jacques Demy, outcast people, and certain elements of his films.
* “Jacques Demy, A To Z”- A 61 minute visual essay by film scholar James Quandt about Jacques Demy. With each letter of the alphabet, we learn about one topic connected to Demy. Everything from his own work and musicals to other directors and paintings are touched upon.
* “Jacques Demy At The Midnight Sun Film Festival”- A 1978 16 minute Q&A from the Finland film festival with Jacques Demy and Peter von Bagh.
* “The World of Jacques Demy”- Agnes Varda (the wife of the late Jacques Demy) directs this touching 91 minute documentary about the life and work of Jacques Demy. Subjects that are touched upon include his body of films, his childhood, and fan letters. Film clips, interviews with colleagues, and archival interviews are included her.
* “The Young Girls Turn 25”- Agnes Varda also directs this 66 minute documentary tribute to “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”
* Jacques Demy “La Luxure” short film about lust.
* “Anouk Aimee”- Agnes Varda interviews Anouk Aimee about playing Lola.
* “Lola’s Song”- Agnes Varda briefly chats about the song “C’est moi, c’est Lola.”
* “Les Horizons Morts”- Another Demy short about a heartbroken young man (played by Demy himself).
* “Le Sabotier Du Val Du Loire”- A 23 minute Demy short about a clog maker.
* Interviews with Jacques Demy, Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais, and Jacques Perrin for an episode of the French TV series “Pour Le Cinema.”
* Ilustrations of Charles Perrault’s “Donkey Skin” story.
* “Donkey Skin And The Thinkers”- A serious analysis of the film by Camille Taboulay, Lucille Durrmeyer, Jean-Claude Polack, and Liliane Picciola.
* A 1971 audio Q&A with Jacques Demy at The American Film Institute.
* An episode of the French TV series “Cinema” containing interviews with Jacques Demy and Michael Legrand about the music of “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”
* Film scholar Jean-Pierre Berthome interviews costume designer Jacqueline Moreau about her and her husband Bernard Evein’s working relationship with Jacques Demy.
* “Behind The Screen”- Episode 2 of Andre Delvaux’s televised documentary about the making of “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”

Overall Thoughts: For Jacques Demy fans, this is the holy grail of Blu-ray releases.

July 31, 2014 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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