Criterion Critique: Une Chambre en Ville



Evvvverrything is boooooring in this musssicalllll

From the pastel-dotted reverie that is “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” to the surreal, indolent, and fur-spun fairy tale of “Donkey Skin”,  director Jacques Demy is known for scrambling levity with abstract realism. Even when he’s attempting to tone down the bombastic theatrics, he still finds ways to plunge his sword into strangeness – in 1972’s “The Pied Piper”, folk-phenom Donovan played the eponymous character with a Pharrell-sized hat, all while plague-ridden rats burrowed into discarded skulls. Pretty normal, fun stuff. Here, ten years later in 1982, Demy molts the absurd in favor of the moribund and dull. Set during a worker’s strike in 1955 Nantes, “Une Chambre en Ville” revolves around a simmering pot of lonely widows, penniless metalworkers, and fur coat wearing opportunists.

Demy’s melancholy musical is strung together by emphatically sung lines of dialogue. “Edmund is impotent!” one character sings. “See a doctor!” another wails out in a shaky vibrato. The theatrical carousel of emotions, between the central characters, mostly takes place in hideously colored rooms. Garish blue pinstripes, pool table greens, and moth eaten yellows appear in every scene with the uneasiness of a burned out light bulb. This, paired with the almost atonal melodies of Michel Colombier, makes for a strangely unpleasant waltz down the poorly lit hallways of a melodramatic and rambling France.

None of the characters in Demy’s circumlocutory opus offer reprieve from their own narcissism. François Guilbaud, the impoverished shipyard worker, bounds from room to room, flirting with its occupants or complaining about money to them. Edith Leroyer flashes everyone, intentionally or otherwise, in her fur coat for the duration of the film. And Margot Langlois, a woman who runs France’s first Airbnb, longs for her deceased son when she isn’t distracted by cigarettes. The dramatis personae, seen here, makes me groan longer than the sounding horns at a Minnesota Vikings home game.

Without likeable characters, distinguished music, or an engaging story, “Une Chambre en Ville” would have to patch the aforementioned holes with Demy’s trademark style – but the director’s madness and wit is nowhere to be found.  Instead, we get warbling lines of dialogue, such as “I’m pregnant!” and “Oh, shit!”, being sung with an all too serious tenor.

There’s no real reason to unearth this film, unless you’re a Jacques Demy completest. Even then, be prepared to sit, mouth agape, with pain and disappointment in your eyes. Why are you doing this to me, Criterion? What did I do to deserrrrrve thissss?


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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