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  Chambre en Ville, Une Songs 'n' Strikes
Year: 1982
Director: Jacques Demy
Stars: Dominique Sanda, Danielle Darrieux, Richard Berry, Michel Piccoli, Fabienne Guyon, Anna Gaylor, Jean-François Stévenin, Jean-Louis Rolland, Marie-France Roussel, Georges Blaness, Yann Dedet, Nicolas Hossein, Gil Warga, Antoine Mikola
Genre: Musical, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1955 and the place is Nantes, where a strike is being held at the shipyard, the workers refusing to return to their jobs unless they get proper rights, and the bully boys in the police lining up to "encourage" them to change their minds. Right now, one of the strikers, François Guilbaud (Richard Berry), is torn between his duty to his colleagues and worrying about his love life, for he is in a relationship with Violette (Fabienne Guyon) who he does not really love, but can see no way away from her. He lives in room in an expensive apartment of widow M. Langlois (Danielle Darrieux), but they are growing testy with each other... however, she does have a daughter.

Said daughter being Edith, played by Dominique Sanda, probably the biggest name in the cast along with her screen mother in writer and director Jacques Demy's return to the sort of musicals which made his name internationally with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg back in the nineteen-sixties. But now it was the eighties, and the cinema du look was taking over imminently, so though it was critically acclaimed, Une Chambre en Ville did not catch on with the public in France. If he was not quite yesterday's man, then he was getting there, though after his death - not too far away at this point - thanks to his wife Agnès Varda his star rose once again, with renewed interest in his work.

This was one which enjoyed a resurgence of popularity, mainly due to it being actually available to watch for a change and not locked up in a vault somewhere, and there were some buffs who found it just as moving as his most sainted classic. However, there were those less impressed, largely because it built to a tragic ending which it did not quite feel it earned, especially as the lovers involved had barely known each other over the course of the few days it took the plot to unfold. Like Demy's other musicals, it was sung throughout, though there were not any songs as such, it was closer to a series of dialogue exchanges the characters happened to be trilling at one another.

This meant, as Michel Colombier was writing the score, there was no hit single from the soundtrack, and to be honest it sorely needed one unless you were used to modern opera, and even those manage a catchy tune occasionally. You would come away from this finding it difficult to remember, never mind sing, any of the dialogue here, it merely washed over you in waves rather than worming its way into your mind like a series of showtunes, and there was no dancing either, the people moved around the sets (or not) as if they were conversing in a straightforward drama. Needless to say, if you were not onboard for this technique, you would be suffering a headache or lack of patience pretty sharpish, or both at once. This left a curious little item that looked like one thing but sounded like another.

Not helping was the melodrama in the storyline that veered wildly from domestic mundanity to way over the top expressions of passion, and there were other eccentricities as well. Edith, for instance, spent almost the entirety of her scenes in a fur coat with nothing on underneath: literally fur coat and no knickers, if they have that phrase in France, which she would intermittently flash other characters with, or divest herself of to go to bed with Guilbaud, an act which starts as defiant prostitution in the face of her jealousy-crazed, older husband Michel Piccoli (sporting a remarkable ginger hair and chinstrap beard look) and ends as what we were supposed to accept as one of the great love affairs of the decade's cinema. Fair enough, the film had faith in its grand emotions as Violette (always dressed in violet) is now pregnant with her boyfriend's baby, and the strike is close to erupting into violence, yet while this was easy enough to watch, it simply looked a bit silly and over the top when it tried to land the big moments. Almost experimental.

[This is included on The Criterion Collection's Essential Jacques Demy box set of Blu-rays. Click here to read more. ]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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