BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: on the town.

IT’S HARD to imagine a film that achieves such orgasmic pleasure as The Young Girls of Rochefort. People don’t walk, they dance. The characters can’t contain their excitement with life that they break into song. They don’t need to talk. Musical instruments are blown or strummed like toys. The centre of Rochefort appears as if Cupid had thrown a cluster bomb into it. And you can feel Demy’s pleasure in making this film (and Varda’s in re-touching it). This is one of the most enjoyable filmic experiences around, infused with the love of film and life. It’d be easy to pass this off as frivolous, lightweight, but it’s a rarity in cinema, a film that’s so wondrously overburdened with pleasure that you marvel at how it was sustained for so long.

The film revolves around a number of love complications among the young and beautiful (and seriously, the cast were Greek paragons) in Rochefort. A fair, the navy, a certain American are all in town searching for love, while those who live in the town are wanting to leave to find love somewhere else. It’s a playful, knowing film – almost the polar opposite to the melancholy “Dear John” tone of Demy’s other masterpiece, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Demy was not afraid to throw in outrageously silly jokes, choke-worthy contrivances, and cheese into the mix with pastel coloured Kandinsky backgrounds, carefree librettos, and dancing. It all works too, as if Demy was expressing his love of the everyday in the most un-everyday way possible.

Of course, the musical genre is escapism to its very core. And those with an archival memory can probably pick countless musical references. The most obvious came in the casting – Gene Kelly was after an American in Paris, George Chakiris who plays a carnie was the leader of the Sharks in West-Side Story (the opening shot of the film paying homage). The titular twin sisters were played by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac, (a reference to Monroe and Russell in Gentleman Prefer Blondes) who were so glamorous that they probably had ugly parents in real-life. The film also had a peerless Michel Legrand score, which poked fun at itself and at Demy throughout. The film was made during a period of increasing pessimism yet paradoxically idealism (given where France was going to go in ’68) – yet the film doesn’t seem quaint. When there is so much sadness in the world (ever wonder why the ridiculous sub-plot of the sadist murderer was chucked into the film?) sometimes all you have to do is sing, dance and above all, love.