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Rochefort Romance - Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’

Rochefort Romance - Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’

Rochefort celebrates the works of a film-maker whose French cinema classic propelled the town to international Swinging 60s stardom.

True style never dates, as Jacques Demy’s romantic musical ‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’ so eloquently demonstrates. The film-maker grew up in Pontchâteau near Nantes, but elected to shoot his follow-up to the hugely successful ‘Les Para-pluies de Cherbourg’ (1964) entirely in and around the elegant coastal town of Rochefort, in both French and English. The results are spellbinding.


From the moment an unforgettable dance routine, led by West Side Story’s George Chakiris, lights up the screen from the sensational Pont Transborder, you just know it was an inspired decision. The scene climaxes in a series of stylish elevated views of the deck moving hypnotically across the blue waters of the Charente, before George and his youthful entourage roll back onto dry land and head into town hoping to sell an assortment of cycles, motorcycles and boats at a forthcoming fair.


Without giving away too much of the plot for those who haven’t yet seen the film, the story revolves around two young sisters, played by Catherine Deneuve and her real-life sister Françoise Dorléac, who teach dance and music respectively, while dreaming of one day finding their true loves. In fact, they’re not alone in their not-altogether-secret yearnings; as the story unfolds everyone we meet soon turns out to be a hopeful romantic at heart, including none other than Gene Kelly, who rolls in behind the wheel of a classic British MGB Roadster.

The real star, though, is undoubtedly the town itself, looking an absolute picture bathed in the legendary light of the Atlantic Coast. Demy loved the architecture which he prepared for the shoots by dispatching advance teams of decorators armed with hundreds of litres of white paint to freshen many of the featured facades, whose doors, windows and shutters were treated to an upbeat palette of pastel pinks, blues and yellows.


The result provides a fittingly dreamlike setting for a dazzling succession of dance routines which accompany the mostly sung dialogue, over a jazzy musical score by Michel Legrand. The focus, not surprisingly, is in and around the celebrated Place Colbert, which looks today pretty much as it did when immortalised on the silver screen. True, over the years the bar run by Delphine and Solange’s mother in the film has acquired a more worldly sophistication. But, if you grab a table on the terrace of the Brasserie des Demoiselles, the timelessly elegant scene which unfolds beyond your coffee cup still looks pleasingly familiar. There can’t be many more pleasurable ways of passing a few idle moments in relaxed reverie.


It goes without saying that once you’ve seen the film the coastal town suddenly becomes even more compelling, and each time you round a corner there’s a good chance that you’ll recognise a particular spot which provided the setting of one of the scenes. After over forty years the residual echo of those colourful events remains as strong as ever.

If you’ve yet to discover the film, or the town which briefly enjoyed international stardom, now is the perfect moment to do so. 

© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. Published in February / March 2014.