A Room In Town

Jacques Demy’s highly personal aesthetic coincided with public taste exactly onceon the 1963 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which became an international success. But later audiences never quite accepted Demy’s conception of a musical cinema, which combines location shooting, naturalistic narratives, and psychologically complex characters with the high stylization of sung dialogue. When released in France in 1982, A Room in Town died at the boxoffice, yet it is one of the most beautiful, assured, and cinematically inventive films of its period, a stylistic tour-de-force that doesn’t distort and destroy the real (as did Diva) but inflects and accentuates itthat brings out the lyricism, nobility, and tragedy inherent in ordinary situations. The action takes place in Nantes in 1955, during a violent ship-builders strike; one of the strikers (Richard Berry), though he is engaged to marry his pregnant girl friend, finds himself drawn to his landlady’s unhappily married daughter (Dominique Sanda). The epic, social background provides a counterpoint (literally, because the strike, too, is carried on in song), to the intimate domestic tragedy of the foreground, where the same broad issue (the relationship of workers and bourgeoisie) is replayed. But the simple material is not played simplistically: though Demy offers melodramatic figures of good (the innocent girl friend) and evil (Sanda’s husband, the cruel owner of a small electronics shop, played with operatic fury by Michel Piccoli), the emotional center of the film is an apparently marginal figurethe landlady, magnificently incarnated by Danielle Darrieux, who must witness the conflict, divided between her affection for Berry and her love for her daughter, between the romantic fulfillment that Berry promises and the financial security providedby Piccoli. All of the expressive tensions of Demy’s cinema are focused on her: a sober acceptance of reality undermined by a yearning for the absolute, an epiphaic romanticism in trragic collision with incontrovertable facts. With Jean-Francois Stevenin. (JR)

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