There is no dialogue for the first five minutes of The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles De Rochefort). A troop of showmen disembark at the color-coordinated seaside town of Rochefort and dance as they construct their traveling fair. The town’s inhabitants disparage the kind of men and women who can be found in such a provincial place, but the festival weekend reveals an assortment of personalities and sensibilities. What the array of characters share is a yearning for love. (Shocking in a French film, I know.)
Les demoiselles are a lovely pair of fraternal twins, Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) and Solange (Françoise Dorléac, who sadly passed away the year of the film’s release). They long to move to Paris and make it big as a dancer and composer, respectively. Meanwhile, they have to deal with their mother (major movie star Danielle Darrieux), who spends her days running a fry shop, their little brother Booboo, and potential lovers, including the flirtatious duo who run the carnival (Americans George Chakiris, of West Side Story, and Grover Dale).
A host of familiar faces, including Jacques Perrin and Gene Kelley (!), sing and swoon to Michel Legrand’s jaunty music and director Jacques Demy’s witty lyrics. The most memorable pieces are “Chanson de Maxence,” a mournful and fanciful ballad about a woman Maxence has never met, and Solange’s dramatic piano composition. While not all the lyrics are sung as they are in Demy’s previous film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, the sheer number of musical numbers can be exhausting for the casual musical fan.
During the carnival itself, the pastel-hued dream of Rochefort is splashed with red, perhaps hinting at the grisly murder that takes place off-screen. Don’t worry–the film’s breezy tone continues uninterrupted. Characters merely gossip and shake their heads at the crime. However, mini-revelations and moments of thwarted fate create genuine moments of amorous suspense.
This film is not for those who dislike musicals or love stories, though these romances aren’t quite love stories. These characters fall in love at first sight, if not earlier, leaving more room for fantasy than romantic narratives. The candied (rather than wholly nourishing) Young Girls of Rochefort is as light, silly, and appealing as its airy vocals.