OK, so LA BAIE DES ANGES, Jacques Demy’s second film, stars Jeanne Moreau and Claude Mann, but I was very taken with Conchita Parodi as the manageress of the Hotel Mimosa in Nice. With a perpetual but subtly-shifting expression of generalised disdain, she exists from the waist up behind a counter, dangling her plump hands in front of herself like drying squid, occasionally letting the fingertips descend to the counter-top as if to draw nutrients from it. This is her only film. A shame — she should have CONQUERED CINEMA.

When I could wrest my vision away from the glorious sea monster, I began to realise that this is one of Moreau’s very best performances. Her face is always a revelation, from moment to moment, and it functions just as well under the rather startling Jayne Mansfield hair she’s been equipped with here. Jackie’s perversity is perhaps more rounded and fully-examined than Catherine’s in JULES ET JIM — you can’t shrug her off with a “women are mysterious” type homily.

Demy’s filming helps enormously because his style evolves from one scene to the next, and he throws in surprising angles, often at the very start of scenes, moving closer than you’d expect in a 1963 film, and treating Moreau with the same gobsmacked attentiveness as the naive young hero. Claude Mann’s protag is something of a twerp, objectively speaking, but he comes across as sweet and melancholy and irresistible thanks to Demy’s surety of tone and gentle yet unflinching observation.

This is a gambling movie — pair it with Karel Reisz and James Toback’s grainy ’70s grunge-wallow THE GAMBLER (very good indeed) for maximum contrast: James Caan never gets to wear a Pierre Cardin bustier. Demy, assisted by Michel Legrand’s insistent, passionate score, serves up the world’s least dynamic gambling montages: face / roulette wheel / face / face / roulette wheel, dissolving together while the music insists we get excited. And we do. The thrill of winning — that unbelievable thing — and the inevitability of losing, are terrifically evoked in Demy’s script and in the performances.

At the end, our man abandons Jackie to the palatial lure of the casino and heads despondent for the bleary dawn. A rapturous and rather unheralded catharsis possesses Jackie and she runs to get him back, calling his name. Demy cuts to an empty frame showing only the mirrored pillars of the lobby, and Jackie flashes past in each of them, one after the other, a white blur, before arriving in person to ensnare the willing hero. Demy appears to want to believe in this reconciliation, but he’s given us far too much information about Jackie’s obsession to allow us to do the same. I found that schism fascinating. Demy seems to be forcing a happy ending upon us by arbitrarily calling “cut!” before the inevitable consequences of the story are played out. It’s an intriguing kind of romanticism.

The film deserves to be considered among his very best.

2 Responses to “Nice.”

  1. Well it most certainly is. The opening shot of Moreau’s face as the camera pulls back, back, back! and Michel crashes away at the pieno like house on fire is the very embodiment of what the cinema can do like no other art form.

    If Jackie’s life is ruled by chance then her decision to give it up is turn of the roulette wheel that breaks the bank. Demy DEFIES you to disbelieve in his happy ending. Of course we find out what happened to Jackie in Model Shop. But the power of this happy ending remains.

    La Baie des Angels is of course a variation on Bresson’s Pickpocket — with the homoeroticism that vibrated through that dark masterpiece surgically removed. And replaced by Jeanne Moreau at her most iconic.

    Not a bad trade-off at all.

  2. Yes, the opening shot’s terrific, irising out and then pulling back and back so it feels like the iris is opening out forever, the screen getting bigger and bigger until it contains the whole city.

    Gotta gotta see Model Shop now!

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