If I had to pick one decade as my favorite for movies, I think I would have to go with the 1960s. Picking my six favorite movies from that decade? That’s a little more difficult. (It’s hard enough to limit myself to six favorites from a single year of the decade.) After much debate, I’ve decided on the following films (listed chronologically), though there are probably about two dozen other titles that could just as easily have made the cut.
“One’s first love is so intense,” the characters in Jacques Demy’s Lola declare again and again. The same might be said of first films — certainly of Lola itself, Demy’s 1961 debut feature. If the fledgling director had had his way, it might have looked a great deal like some of his later works, including The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), as he explained in an interview included in Agnès Varda’s 1995 documentary The World of Jacques Demy: “It would have cost 250 million francs, in color and Scope, with lots of dancing and singing and costumes. So [producer Georges] de Beauregard told me, ‘Look, it’s a sweet project, but [Jean-Luc Godard’s] Breathless cost 32 million. If you can do yours for 35, it’s a deal.'” Demy accepted. The resulting film — black and white, with only a single short song — may not resemble his subsequent musicals on a superficial level, but many of their major elements are already present: characters crossing paths, improbable coincidences and, above all, a pervasive air of romance. Perhaps Lola‘s smaller scale, with its relative modesty and lack of frills, actually gives these qualities an added strength and purity.
Iris in on the French Riviera: A woman (Jeanne Moreau) with platinum blonde hair walks along a promenade that overlooks the water, a purse in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Her pace as she approaches the camera, though fairly brisk, is no match for that of the camera itself. It pulls back ever farther, ceaselessly, racing away from her so that she becomes an increasingly minuscule figure in the distance. After a moment, a piano begins to play — dramatic, impassioned, suffused with romantic longing. It’s the sort of score one expects to hear in a Jacques Demy film (right down to the fact that it was composed by his frequent collaborator Michel Legrand), yet the Demy film that follows this opening — 1963’s Bay of Angels — isn’t quite what the music might suggest.
On the rare occasions when I watch them, I always approach musicals with a certain wariness. I can’t pinpoint why they don’t appeal to me, especially when there are quite a few exceptions to the rule: West Side Story, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof. (The Beatles’ movies never feel like musicals to me, though I suppose they are, and I do love A Hard Day’s Night and Help!) All I know is that I’m not likely to seek out a musical unless it’s required film fan viewing (Singin’ in the Rain, for example) or there’s some other attraction, such as an actor or director whose work I’ve enjoyed. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg fell into the former category; The Young Girls of Rochefort, consequently, fell into the latter.