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  Baie des Anges, La Win Big, Lose Big
Year: 1963
Director: Jacques Demy
Stars: Jeanne Moreau, Claude Mann, Paul Guers, Henri Nassiet, André Certes, Nicole Chollet, Georges Alban, Conchita Parodi, Jacques Moreau, André Canter, Jean-Pierre Lorrain
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jean Fournier (Claude Mann) is a young man who works in an office, and finds his prospects not exactly exciting as the job is beginning to wear him down. A co-worker, Caron (Paul Guers), notices this and offers to give him a lift home since Jean is so tired, and on the journey, they converse about where he got the money for a car. He admits he has won big at the local casino and spent his winnings on this vehicle, only don't tell his wife - he lied to her and said he secured a loan to buy it. Caron suggests taking his friend along to the casino, but Jean is sceptical, though there is a definite allure to the promise of succeeding at the gambling tables, so he eventually relents and joins him...

Writer and director Jacques Demy was riding high off the back of his French New Wave success Lola when he made this follow-up, and if it is true to observe this did not have the same impact, it did gather a bunch of fans who felt it was in some way living up to the promise of his feature debut. Of course, he would go on to even greater success as the nineteen-sixties progressed, but that did mean The Bay of Angels (as it was known in translation) was somewhat neglected in his filmography when there were bigger films to be seen. After his death, increasing numbers of film buffs went beyond The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to investigate his oeuvre, and this was sort of rediscovered.

It wasn't reclaimed as a masterpiece or anything that major, but as a second division work from one of the most imaginative of French directors to emerge from the Nouvelle Vague, it did pick up fans who were keen to see what Demy would do alongside an acting heavyweight like Jeanne Moreau, for she was the real draw here. She played Jackie Demaistre, a compulsive gambler who Jean catches sight of at that local casino in his town: not at the roulette, but being thrown out and banned for getting caught cheating again. He notes her and moves on, pausing briefly to think on his father's disdain for anyone who gets mixed up with gambling as a mug's game - but he wins big.

On telling his father this, Jean is promptly thrown out too - of his father's house, his main crime being he prefers to go to the South of France and the casinos there instead of visiting his relatives as he traditionally has done. So you see, an element of coming of age was present here as the protagonist breaks free from the familial bonds and embarks on his own journey, except Jean was rather older than most heroes of coming of age tales; yet the theme of taking a gamble was inherent as well. When he does get to his destination and starts spending his hometown winnings on a higher stakes establishment, he finds his cash flow beginning to dwindle as the notion that all of this betting is not based on skill but on sheer luck grew more apparent - Jean has no grand scheme, simply a spot of superstition to guide him through complete chance.

But then he meets Jackie, who he teams up with after he manages to give her income a boost by betting on the same number at the roulette wheel, again the superstition as they both take this as a sign they were meant to be together, in the casinos at the very least. Yet they need more, and this connection trying their luck blossoms into something more romantic, or it would be were it not for Jackie's addiction to betting leaving her liable to screw Jean over no matter what kind of deeper feelings she is fostering for them. We already know she has left her husband behind, and a three-year-old son as well, but Jean remains attracted to her with her platinum blonde hairdo, Pierre Cardin outfits (about two of them!) and a cigarette always on the go, she's somewhere between the promise of living the high life and ending up in the gutter, perfectly embodied by Moreau. Was this really about dreams, and what they can do to us, providing a reason to go on but setting us up for crushing defeat too? Hey, isn't life a gamble? Music by Michel Legrand.

[This is included on The Criterion Collection's Essential Jacques Demy box set of Blu-rays. Click here to read more. ]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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