BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: a goddess of gamblers.

JEANNE MOREAU was already one of France’s most iconic actors by the time she made Bay of Angels (La Baie des Anges), given the roaring success of her earlier Louis Malle (Les Amants), Michelangelo Antonioni (La Notte) and François Truffaut (Jules et Jim) work. But there’s something about her performance as Jackie Demaistre in Bay of Angels that’s even more bewitching than her iconic roles – she burns the screen up with a rare type of intensity, creating a character, who despite throwing herself headlong into righteous self-destruction or the fact that she gambled away her three-year-old son, you find yourself a moth to her flame. She dominates so much, that the other lead, Claude Mann (as Jean Fournier) comes across as a simpering, highly melodramatic sad-sack, yet you understand his character collapsing in a heap around her. It’s lesser Demy perhaps, but it’s a dark, rich evocation of low-lifes and hopeless romantics.

Jean is a bank clerk, living with his widowered father, drifting along in life, until a workmate convinces him to come to a casino with him and play the roulette tables. He wins, and wins big, and despite his better reservations, decides to go on a one-month vacation to the Riviera, and potentially attack the casinos with some fervour. It’s only however when he meets Jackie that he finds himself living the oscillating lifestyle of a gambling addict, ensuite rooms in Monte Carlo, and scrounging around for loose change in Nice.

Arguably the film’s weakest point is their relationship – Mann is a little indifferent in his performance, and isn’t particularly believable, but then again, he is greatly overshadowed by Moreau. That said, Demy isn’t in the mood to particularly glamorise their relationship either: cheap hotels, lying to family to get money, theft, flirting to get a chip to bet are all part of their trashy, desparate lifestyle. Gambling is touching these characters somewhere different, it’s not about money, it’s about the unpredictable lifestyle. Demy sometimes doesn’t bother to give us the thrill of seeing if their number is coming up on the roulette table either, instead we see their faces with a mixture of resigned indifference and muted expectation.

Given the sunny cliché that is the French Riviera, this was a dark, moody milieu, with seedy people hanging out in seedy surroundings. Demy creates a very dark tone to this film, it’s his way of wringing out the musical in the everyday, the light out of the sordid. Jackie could have been straight out of film noir, a smouldering femme fatale at times, but instead, Demy moves the noirish feel to melodrama and realism. And even the final image gives no resolution, sure they kiss, sure they could even live happily ever after, but the abrupt pullback by the camera back into the casino suggests love perhaps, may not always find a way.