Demy Monde: Une chambre en ville

(France, 1982, 90 mins, DCP)
In French with English subtitles
Director:
CAST Dominique Sanda, Richard Berry, Danielle Darrieux, Michel Piccoli, Fabienne Guyon

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During a workers’ strike in Nantes in 1955, steel worker François Guilbaud rents a room from a sympathetic widow. He has a pregnant girlfriend but falls out of love with her when he meets Edith Leroyer, a beautiful, working class girl who is unhappily married to a rich but impotent and neurotic merchant. Edith likes to walk around town naked with only a fur coat on, as a tarot card reader told her she would find love with a passing sailor. Every line of dialogue is sung

"Jacques Demy’s highly personal aesthetic coincided with public taste exactly once, on the 1963 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which became an international success. But later audiences never quite accepted Demy’s conception of a musical cinema, which combines location shooting, naturalistic narratives, and psychologically complex characters with the high stylization of sung dialogue. When released in France in 1982, A Room in Town died at the boxoffice, yet it is one of the most beautiful, assured, and cinematically inventive films of its period, a stylistic tour-de-force that doesn’t distort and destroy the real (as did Diva) but inflects and accentuates it, that brings out the lyricism, nobility, and tragedy inherent in ordinary situations. […]

The epic, social background provides a counterpoint (literally, because the strike, too, is carried on in song), to the intimate domestic tragedy of the foreground, where the same broad issue (the relationship of workers and bourgeoisie) is replayed. But the simple material is not played simplistically: though Demy offers melodramatic figures of good (the innocent girl friend) and evil (Sanda’s husband, the cruel owner of a small electronics shop, played with operatic fury by Michel Piccoli), the emotional center of the film is an apparently marginal figure, the landlady, magnificently incarnated by Danielle Darrieux, who must witness the conflict, divided between her affection for Berry and her love for her daughter, between the romantic fulfillment that Berry promises and the financial security provided by Piccoli.

All of the expressive tensions of Demy’s cinema are focused on her: a sober acceptance of reality undermined by a yearning for the absolute, an epiphaic romanticism in tragic collision with incontrovertable facts. With Jean-Francois Stevenin." Jonathan Rosenbaum

"This unheralded latter-day masterpiece has been infuriatingly hard to see since its fleeting theatrical release in France. [Michel Colombier’ contributes a wall to wall score often staggering in its intensity and romantic longing." Mondo Digital

"A masterly effort to understand what is profound, what lies beneath, life’s melody." Armond White, New York Film Critics Choice

"Une chambre en ville is unquestionably a daring experiment in cinematic form, and possibly the most honest and revealing of all Demy’s films." Jamie Travers, French Film Guide