some interesting direction, and Jeanne Moreau, but nothing very special
First a note of interest: Jeanne Moreau is in the movie, and she's the star, of course, but she's also a blonde here. Usually, from what I can remember from say The Lovers or La Notte or Jules & Jim it's dark or at least brunette. I wonder if she was already blonde at the time or if it was a deliberate and specific choice on director Jacques Demy's end. Because, somehow, it does add something extra to the character. When we first see her on screen she's being 'escorted' (kind word for kicked out) of a casino that Jean and Caron are at to start gambling, and it's a big scene where we see her arguing and stomping her feet and we barely see her face, just a fury of big blonde hair and attitude to match. It's not exactly the same cool presence one saw in some of Moreau's other big films of the period - and yet when we see her again she is lovely and with that face that charms immediately upon the smile, and makes one feel the gloom of after hours when looking serious.
Bay of Angels is a movie that works best when Demy focuses his theme on escapism, what would appear to be at first a film for escapists, about people going off to rich places like Monte Carlo and gambling away the life savings and having a great time in expensive suits and drinking champagne. But it's also about the nature of this escapism, the danger of it. It's predictable to see that Jean, who comes from a family where gambling is incredibly frowned upon, and Jackie, who at one point confesses that going into a casino is like going into Church, will lose a lot of money, maybe all of it, and keep going in dire straits throughout. What isn't expected is how Demy interweaves this seemingly endless back and forth of the bottomless pit that is a gambler's life (if only seeming like a lifetime in however few days Jean/Jackie are together) and how touching it becomes against the backdrop of glamour. At the least, his film is about something.
The only problems come with a few scenes in the script that drag - the dialog often works, but sometimes not quite enough to satisfy the emotional purpose of a scene. Maybe also contributing to this is first time actor Claude Mann as Jean. Mann would later be featured in Melville's Army of Shadows, among other notable films, but here he just can't hold his own most of the time alongside such a presence like Moreau. It was wise to cast someone young, and maybe not with the most experience, as this kid who goes on vacation from a small bank-clerk job to try and find himself by way of throwing away hundreds of thousands (albeit I pictured more-so, as the film went on, the actor who played the lead in Pickpocket). But Mann just doesn't really fit in, especially when he has to go into big dramatic scenes (i.e. the outbursts of anger against Jackie in the hotel rooms).
And yet Bay of Angels displays a director with an intuition with the camera, a grace and style, and a dazzling sense of music, precisely repetitive, over the shots of the roulette table spinning around and the faces dissolving in and out with it. There are beautiful moments, and it's hard not to take eyes ever off of Moreau, one of those actresses who keeps working today into her late 70s going on 80s but whom one thinks of in black and white only. She had/has one of the great faces in movies, and she's a damn good actress to boot. 7.5/10
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