So we only got to Wednesday and already have to cheat by choosing films about women, rather than by women. Jacques Demy was Agnes Varda’s beloved husband, the film I watched yesterday.
The film is divided into three parts named ‘The Departure’, ‘The Absence’, and ‘The Return’, spanning November 1957 to December 1963, and is also part of a wider trilogy of shared themes and occasional shared characters.
Since it is entirely sung through, there were none of the usual constraints of having to find dub singing voices similar to that of the actors. That gave great liberties to Demy and Michel Legrand in the voices of singers – who would record the soundtrack before the shoot started. They wanted to avoid the operatic side of singing, so needed to find simple voices that went with the text and the music. They need ‘jazz people’ – because of all the rhythmic moments, the quick pace changes, and difficult note sequences.
There is a Janus reading of Deneuve’s character. One one side, she is a young girl, in love, innocent and blind to the pains of distance. Her inability to choose is perceptible from the beginning of the film where she knows not how to respond to the barman asking for her order (‘a squeezed … thing, please’), to the end of the film where the petrol boy asks her what fuel to put in her car, and she shrugs him off.
The other hand, though, reveals that Geneviève’s ‘betrayal’ is due to her world. First off, her melancholia is telling. Though she is young, she is world-weary – certainly not immature. When she realises she is pregnant – 1958 in the film – young mothers were still not allowed to get the ‘livret de famille’ – or documents certifying that single mother and child were a ‘family’. Her mother gives her no sex education under the pretext that when she married her father she knew none either. It is, I think, social pressure, much more than a lack of willingness, that would explain Geneviève’s procrastinations.
Deneuve looks at the camera twice in the film, a stare meant for the public. When she chooses her wedding dress she looks at us momentarily, before a stark cut transposes her to the church, in the process of marriage. It’s a scary fucking look. Her look is an accusation against all of this anaesthetised France that would make her life impossible if she rebelled.
It is a film about a girl who accepts to bend her dream to the constraints of reality.