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Review: A Room in the City (1982)

Director: Jacques Demy | 190 minutes | drama, romance, musical | Actors: Dominique Sanda, Danielle Darrieux, Richard Berry, Michel Piccoli, Fabienne Guyon, Anna Gaylor, Jean-François Stévenin, Jean-Louis Rolland, Marie-France Roussel, Georges Blaness, Yann Dedet, Nicolas Hossein, Gil Warga, Antoine Mikola, Marie-Pierre Feuillard

‘Une chambre en ville’ has been a special experience for a long time due to its continuous musical form. It is not the case with this film, as with the average musical, that ordinary scenes take place, with natural acting and without music, and then take on an elevated theatrical form in which the characters suddenly burst into song and dance. No, ‘Une chambre en ville’ is in fact one big musical explosion. Because really every word is sung, and almost every moment is accompanied by music. If you add to this form the story of romance and tragedy, with a love triangle, revenge actions, and murder and manslaughter, the association with opera is quickly made. Ultimately, ‘Une chambre en ville’ is primarily an ambitious film, which unfortunately does not convince enough in terms of content and form.

The (background) story certainly has interesting elements in it; just like the characters. But at the plot level, the developments disappoint to such an extent that the emotions become too little credible or tangible enough. Especially the love affair between François (Richard Berry) and Edith (Dominique Sanda) is insufficiently convincing, which is the figurative death blow for the film. The way he ends up with François with Edith (she is walking down the street, sees François, makes him a dishonorable proposition by revealing her naked under her fur coat, and their love is sealed) is too arbitrary to care. At the most you can argue as a viewer that Edith is nothing more than a flight from François, who does not know how to end his relationship with his – recently – pregnant girlfriend. Incidentally, the latter relationship is portrayed (and word) with feeling and reflection. He loves her, but not enough to build a (romantic) future with her, and everything that goes with it. François discusses this with his girlfriend, and they both agree that he shouldn’t hurt her and should handle it with care. It is a pity, then, that the woman who should be it all for François, and who should kindle his passion, so casually and suddenly, for no apparent reason, turns out to be the one. The violent actions of Edith’s (ex-) husband, and the way in which he suddenly suspects his wife of adultery when he visits her mother, are also artificial. Another interesting socio-political dimension – the workers’ strikes,

The plot and motivations of the film may leave something to be desired, the musical form could compensate enough and iron out these flaws a bit. Unfortunately, the excitement of the sung story eventually fades and gives way to irritation. In the beginning, the approach to singing every word is still innovative, but the vocals and the musical content just keep rippling on aimlessly. In musicals and operas there are at least still clearly defined musical numbers in the story, with a chorus and a kind of climax. This is not the case here. Sometimes it is as if the characters are just improvising and singing their lyrics without too much conviction, just because this is expected of them. Coupled with a natural acting style – and not a theatrical performance – it creates a worse style break than with normal musicals. It is neither meat nor fish now. If you still need to sing, then do so with some conviction and dazzling or sensitive songs. Now it would have been better to communicate through normal dialogue. Then the feelings would have come across better. Now it is interesting for about half the film, but then boredom sets in. And that while it is such a (potentially) tragic and layered story. Unfortunately. Now it is interesting for about half the film, but then boredom sets in. And that while it is such a (potentially) tragic and layered story. Unfortunately. Now it is interesting for about half the film, but then boredom sets in. And that while it is such a (potentially) tragic and layered story. Unfortunately.

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