83 minutes

     Jacques Demy kicks off his sophomore effort with a repeat performance of the roving car shot that started off his debut Lola - with the camera pulling back in a speedy rush as Jeanne Moreau is left behind walking by the beach promenade in Nice, as Michel Legrand's hyper-romantic main theme soars around it. But La Baie des Anges isn't a musical, as both the director's reputation and this virtuoso entrance might suggest; rather a dark yet breezy take on gambling as a metaphor for life, underlining yet again Mr. Demy's fascination with the power of imagination and projection to raise man off his feet. It does retain, however, the director's trademark fluid, eminently musical handling; against the ensemble flavour of Lola he composes here a fugue for two instruments/characters, Claude Mann's stifled Parisian bank teller Jean, and Jeanne Moreau's compulsive gambler Jackie, who has abandoned everything for her passion.

     The two meet cute in Nice then share a passionate affair where love and money, risk and reward intertwine as he allows her to push the boundaries of his inbuilt cautiousness. The tell-all moment comes as Jean enters the Nice casino through a hall of mirrors that seems to disperse and multiply its reflections, as if he were about to enter a maze of emotions he may very well get lost in and will no longer control. And, in effect, La Baie des Anges works on that level as a coming-of-age tale, as a fiery Jean takes his fate in his hands and learns what it means to be a man (Mr. Mann's effaced, sulky presence is, in that respect, simply perfect for the project). Ms. Moreau, who was instrumental in getting the film made, is excellent as Jackie, the woman who has given up everything for the game, alternately calculating and seducing, vulnerable and invincible.

     Mr. Demy keeps La Baie des Anges moving along breezily yet never loses sight of the combination of fascination and horror, triumph and despair induced by gambling, resulting in one of the most enthralling films ever made about it, simultaneously stylized and incisive, artificial and heartfelt - even though the seemingly tacked-on ending that moves the film into fable territory is a severe letdown after the brutally honest take on the subject that came before.

Starring Jeanne Moreau; Claude Mann; with Paul Guers.
     Directed and written by Jacques Demy; music by Michel Legrand; director of photography (b&w), Jean Rabier; production designer, Bernard Evein; film editor, Anne-Marie Cotret.
     A P. E. Decharme presentation of a Sud-Pacifique Films production. (Original French distributor, Consortium Pathé. World sales, Ciné-Tamaris.)
     Screened: DVD, Lisbon, November 17th 2011. 


Popular Posts