La Baie des Anges

 (Jacques Demy, France, 1962) 89 minutes


Director: Jacques Demy
Producer: Paul-Edmond Decharme
Screenplay: Jacques Demy
Art Director: Bernard Evein
Cinematography: Jean Rabier
Music: Michel Legrand
Jeanne Moreau (Jackie Demaistre)
Claude Mann (Jean Fournier)
Paul Guers (Caron)
Henri Nassiet (Jean's Father)
Henri Certes
Nicole Chollet

Reviews and notes

The outstanding quality which Demy's second film shares with Lola (much more than Les Parapluies de Cherbourg), is its air of immense lightness, speed and gaiety. Demy, of course, is first and foremost a decorator, and La Baie des Anges is conceived as a dazzling play of black on white: arabesques of an iron bedstead on a wall; of ornamental clocks against another wall; of floral patterns or a feather-boa on a dress; of sober croupiers and casino interiors on an ash-blonde and white-robed Jeanne Moreau; and even of one soul on another. For the long opening tracking shot which precedes Jeanne Moreau as she walks along the desolate promenade at Nice, shows her dingy under a cloudy sky; but when Jean arrives and they meet, both she and Nice are transformed by a brilliant sunlight which casts its spell over the rest of the film.

In a way, the film is about the springing of two snares (springing open as well as closed): for Jackie, who is trapped by numbers and freed by love; and for Jean, who is trapped by love but has an almost instinctive control of numbers; together, they achieve a kind of triumph. "Je suis Libre", Jackie exclaims defiantly, explaining why she cannot love him, but when he finally turns his back on her, she finds that she has to rush out of the casino and stop him. And Jean, who started out with all sorts of cautious ideas, controlling his runs of luck, carefully tucking away enough money for the hotel bill before going to the casino, is finally reduced to lying and cheating for money like Jackie ("You see, I'm no better than you are", he tells her) when he sends the begging letter to his father.

The film has been interpreted as a descent into hell ? an interpretation with which Demy himself appears to concur, but which is contradicted at every frame by the exhilaration which informs the entire film. Jeanne Moreau, in a performance of extraordinary febrile charm as the compulsive gambler who lives for the present instant only, has all the moody, fickle, glittering lure of a demon; but she also reveals profound depths of beauty, tenderness and purity which suggest that, in loving her, Jean has reached paradise and not purgatory.

Hence, perhaps, a certain ambiguity in the film, which is maintained in the final shot: when Jean leaves Jackie after she has refused to give up gambling, she suddenly abandons her beloved roulette wheels, and rushes out of the casino into his arms; but the camera tracks away from them, back into the casino, as though willing them back inside. Perhaps, though, it is pointless to try to probe too deeply; simply enjoy the film for its stunning visual texture and tempo; for the joyously romantic Michel Legrand theme which accompanies the acquisition of love, luxury and winnings on the roulette wheel; and, of course, for Jeanne Moreau.
- Tom Milne, Monthly Film Bulletin, July 1965.

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