Saturday, March 27, 2010

cinema obscura: Jacques Demy's "Trois places pour le 26"/"Three Tickets for the 26th" (1988)

Jacques Demy's last live-action film and one of the final films of Yves Montand, made three years before his death, 1988's "Trois places pour le 26"/"Three Tickets for the 26th" is something of a secret gem. Inexplicably, it has never been shown in the United States, particularly given that Montand's co-stars are Françoise Fabian and Mathilda May.

Very much a burst-into-song, MGM-style musical that Demy loved (and appropriated), "Trois places" is also something of fictionalized biopic of Montand who plays himself as he prepares for "Montand Remembers," the show-within-the-film, and reminisces about his life and career while rehearsing. There's an apt vérité quality to Jean Penzer's cinematography.

Watching it, one is struck just how much Montand was the French equivalent of Frank Sinatra, a solid actor who was also a first-rate song-and-dance man. Few Americans realize that. But Montand came to America's attention in George Cukor's now-forgotten Marilyn Monroe pseudo-musical, "Let's Make Love" (1960), a film that was overshadowed by the notoriety of Montand's affair with Monroe during the production.

But even more relevant to "Trois places" (and predating "Let's Make Love" by a year) is "An Evening With Yves Montand" which opened on Broadway at Henry Miller's Theater on September 22, 1959, to positive reviews. The limited-run show was extended and played 42 performances.

Not surprisingly, Demy's house composer, Michel Legrand, wrote the original score for the film, which also has several standards interpolated, classics such as Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose" and Monroe's version of Cole Porter's "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," recorded for the Cukor film.

Montand would make only two more films - Jacques Deray's "Netchaïev est de retour" (1991) and Jean-Jacques Beineix's "IP5: L'île aux pachydermes" (1992), released after his death. Montand died on the set of the Beineix movie on the last day, after his very last shot.

He was 70.

As for Demy, the same year he made "Trois places," he collaborated with cartoonist Paul Grimault on "La table tournante"/"The Turning Table," an animation about a little clown who visits Grimault - the clown being the star of his movie "Le Roi et l'Oiseau." Their conversation is laced with clips of other Grimault films. At one point, Anouk Aimée joins the duo.

As the French would say, très charmant.

That goes for "Trois places pour le 26," as well.

Demy died two years after make it - in 1990. He was only 59.


Vivian said...

Agnes Varda has done such a champion job keeping alive the Demy legacy that I'm surprised that she never orchestrated a U.S. release of "Trois Places." Was it badly received in France?

Massimo said...

I saw this film when it opened in Paris. It was not top-grade Demy - the critics sort of shrugged - but it was easy to watch and I enjoyed Montand's flirtatious interplay with Mathilda May.

Charlotte Charalambous said...

The film was not a success, not necessarily because it was bad but Demy has become unfashionable by then. It happens

Alex said...

"Trois places pour le 26" is included in "Integral Jacques Demy", the 12-disc DVD set distributed by Arte Video. It's available only in France as a Region 2 DVD release and, of course, everything in in French with no subtitles, including the commentaries and documentaries. But all the films look good, having been lovingly restored.

arthur s. said...

Certainly, many Demy movies have carried the spectator along more through music than any clear train of events or logically ordered emotions, but I like how he used songs that stopped and started, stuttered and repeated themselves. He made music very organic to his work.

Daryl Chin said...

Demy was already very ill when he made TROIS PLACES, and Montand was not in the best of health either. So that accounts for some of the slackness in the movie. Yet it is very charming, and a fitting tribute to Montand.

One (true) story: the female lead was supposed to be Delphine Seyrig, but Montand objected. He had heard (from Joseph Losey) that Seyrig was a very vocal feminist, and so he asked that she be replaced with Francoise Fabian. Because Montand was the box office draw in terms of the project, Demy relented. Seyrig was very hurt by this, especially since she had been a close friend of Simone Signoret's. But Montand wanted to have his own way.

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Daryl. Invaulable info, as always. I've heard some hard-edged, old-world chauvinistic stuff about Montand, so his stance on feminism doesn't surprise me. "Slack" is a discreet word to describe "Trois Places." I still find it charming but I also always thought of it as an old-man's film made by a (relatively) young man. Maybe that's why it's charming.

Kent said...

ALEX is wrong. the 12 dvd arte video collection has english subtitles for all but one film.