Jacques Demy, writer-director, and Michel Legrand, composer, who did the successful musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, reunite for a more ambitious pic that adds dance to a tale of small-town life. It has charm, sustained human observation, mixed with catchy music, dances and songs to come up as a tuner with grace and dynamism.
Into a sleepy little port town near a naval base comes a carnival used to advertise products. Two of the pitchmen (George Chakiris, Grover Dale) lose their girls to sailors and ask two sisters (Catherine Deneuve, Francoise Dorleac), who give dance lessons and compose music, to put on an act for them. Also involved are the sisters’ mother (Danielle Darieux), who dreams of a lost love and runs a local cafe, a visiting American composer (Gene Kelly) who falls for one of the girls, and an artist-sailor (Jacques Perrin) who has painted a portrait of his ideal woman who happens to look like one of the girls.
All this evolves mainly in the town square, a cafe in the middle of it, and the girls’ apartment and combo dance studio, plus a white and gleaming music shop. As in Cherbourg, the town has been repainted to look like a glowing and colorful little place.
Deneuve and Dorleac, real sisters, play twins with the right mixture of feminine guile, passiveness and stubborn aggressiveness when it comes to the men they want. Darrieux is fetching as their mother; she is the only one who synched her own songs, at least in the French version.
Kelly is trim, dynamic and both brash and winning, while Chakiris has less to do as one of the carny men who loses out on the girls.
Though a fairly classic musical reminiscent of earlier Yank tuners, it has a Gallic froth, tinged with unobtrusive melancholy and character delineation. Legrand again comes up with sweet but never syrupy music. Norman Maen has contributed simple but deft choreography.