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  • Ravi Swami

"Bay of Angels" - Dir:Jacques Demy, 1963

I'll make no bones about the fact that I'm a huge fan of Jacques Demy's films. having "rediscovered" them in the early 00's, prior to which I have a dim memory of seeing a U.K film magazine programme covering a French film about umbrellas and scenes of joyous dancing in the streets, when I was a pre-teen - the image stuck with me for decades.

With the films came an appreciation of the musical scores by Demy's long-time collaborator, Michel Legrand which evolved into being an integral part of the story and helped establish and embellish upon on the tone that Demy was reaching for.

I've subsequently watched all his most well-known films, either on DVD / BluRay and was lucky enough to visit Paris for a special screening of a remastered print of "Les Demoiselles De Rochefort" at The Grand Rex cinema - a fabulous example of cinema architecture - with Michel Legrand playing live on stage.

What makes Demy's work unusual is that in all the films he made during that fertile period in French cinema of the 1960's there is a kind of "6 degrees of separation" thing going on in each film where characters from one film re-appear in the next, if not in person then certainly by way of reference, which helps to suggest a reality beyond the limits of the story in each film - I can only think of Satyajit Ray as an example of a director who followed the same character's story arc through a series of films, and obviously Francois Truffaut with his films, starting with "Quatre Cent Coups / "The 400 Blows" and featuring the same actor at different stages of the same character's life across a series of films.

Although technically speaking Demy qualifies as a "French New Wave" director, his interests and influences - Hollywood musicals, for example - make him something of an outsider within that group, though it could be argued that "Bay of Angels" and the earlier, "Lola", are quite realistic in their portrayal of ordinary people trying to escape the bucolic surroundings of provincial France and the claustrophobia of bourgeois values.

By the later films like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" the themes are the same but the tone is becoming gradually lighter and more lyrical and he succeeds in elevating the banal into something epic, helped enormously by the scores by Michel Legrand.

The other discovery over lockdown has been the work of certain actresses like Anouk Aimee and, here Jeanne Moreau, who, apart from odd appearances in some Western films, I was only vaguely familiar with - a consequence of their status being somewhat overshadowed in the West by actresses like Brigitte Bardot.

"Bay of Angels" has a rather dark tone since it uses the world of high-stakes gambling, and the addiction to gambling that could follow, as a backdrop to an unlikely love story between the divorced wife of a millionaire who has abandoned her only child to pursue her gambling addiction, and a young banker who is persuaded by a friend to try his hand at the roulette tables of Nice, on the South of France - if you know nothing about playing roulette before seeing this film then it is something of an education, and creates the unsettling sense that you are more than just an observer, cleverly putting you in the shoes of the young banker who is being shown the ropes, a little unwillingly, by Jeanne Moreau's character and getting in too deep in the process.

Visually, the film has been termed "luminous" and this may be down to the art direction, focussing on stark black and white tones, something reflected in Moreau's choice of couture, her dyed blonde hair and the white exteriors illuminated by the Mediterranean sun of the hotels and casinos that line the Croisette in Cannes, where much of the story takes place.

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