A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Gigi (Jacqueline Audry, 1949)

The print shown on Turner Classic Movies was not very good, the images having shifted into high contrast with little variation in the grays, so that the subtitles are often an unreadable white on white. But anyone familiar with either the Colette novella or the 1958 Lerner and Loewe musical version directed by Vincente Minnelli will have little trouble following the story. It's a movie that retains much of the charm and a little of the bite of the original, and Danièle Delorme is a fetching Gigi, the girl raised to be a grande horizontale who wins the heart and hand of the wealthy Gaston Lachaille (Frank Villard). Delorme and Villard don't erase memories of Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan in the musical, but they have their own contributions to make, especially Villard, who is particularly strong in the scenes in which Gaston comes to realize the true nature of his feelings for Gigi. You sense his rising queasiness when she accepts his proposal to become his mistress, especially in the scene in the private room at the restaurant where they are about to consummate their relationship. When she naively asks why the couches in the room have slipcovers and when she chooses his cigar by rolling it between her fingers as she has been taught, the full obscenity of the situation becomes apparent to him. It has been apparent to us from the moment at the beginning of the film when we meet his uncle, Honoré, whom Jean Tissier plays as far more a dirty old man than the elegant Maurice Chevalier did in the musical. Which is not to say that the movie's moral stance is heavy-handed: Director Audry has a very light touch, the product of a close collaboration with Colette. There are some wonderful period touches throughout the film, including Gaston's automobile, Aunt Alicia's (Gaby Morlay) telephone, and the bathing machine that is pulled by a mule into the waves at Deauville. The movie also reminded me that Gigi is a nickname for Gilberte, which is also the name of Swann's daughter and the narrator's first infatuation in Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. There's also a scene in which Gigi plays hide-and-seek with other schoolgirls in the park, that echoes for me Albertine and her little band of girls in À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs. Proust was only two years older than Colette, and the Recherche and  Gigi very much share the same milieu.