Six Damn Fine Degrees #36: Le Axe Murderer de Rochefort

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Michel Legrand’s score to 1967’s Les Demoiselle de Rochefort is one of that film’s many delights. Not only is it better than his score for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (yes, it is, no, I will not be taking questions) but its a vital underpinning to a frothy delight of a film full of bright, vibrant colours, happy dance routines, beautiful people falling in love – and, of course, an axe-wielding psychopath.

If you’ve not seen the film (and after Matt’s excellent article, why on Earth haven’t you yet?), I should probably give you a spoiler warning at this point. I mean, its not really much of a spoiler warning because the whole serial killer subplot in the film has absolutely no impact on the plot whatsoever. The actions of this murderous brute all happen in their blood-soaked slashing glory off-camera, and the surprise twist as to the killer’s identity is dropped at the end of the film in the most perfunctory manner. None of the characters seem to care that much about it, they’re all too busy being beautiful and chasing love.

It seems such a bizarre contrast. There is no people smuggling subplot to Singin’ In The Rain. Judy Garland isn’t having to tackle Murder in St Louis. At first glance, it seems akin to Ridley Scott deciding that what Alien needed was the inclusion of a song and dance number – the crew of the Nostromo belting out a stirring rendition of Food, Glorious Foodbefore the chestburster suddenly emerges in a tiny top hat, gives a quick “Ta-da!” complete with jazz hands and scampers off to be terrifying for the rest of the film. Or Béla Tarr revealing his latest eight-hour epic was an excuse for subtle product placement for Lux flakes.

Which all begs the question: why is there this bloodsoaked b-plot in such a delightful, colourful musical? I’d definitely recommend the film anyway, as its a great watch in part to consider your own theory as to why. For what it’s worth however, here’s mine. Musicals, especially the glorious Hollywood ones this film celebrates, will often tell a love story. And the love story they tell will be simple: a boy and a girl see each other, fall in love and this pure love will help them overcome obstacles (and misunderstandings) to reach their happy ending. When you find the right person, its obvious that you are meant to be together. In Les Demoiselles de Rochefort this is the sailor who is seeking his imagined ideal woman that once he drew – and who just happens to look exactly like Catherine Deneuve. Or its Gene Kelly’s visiting American who is smitten from the moment he sees Françoise Dorléac. Love in the movies is a beautiful motivating madness that pulls people together in happiness.

But maybe, just maybe, this film is also telling us that this most celebrated form of Love is not all Happy Ever After. A man could fall for the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and imagine he’s destined to be with her always. And consequently not be able to cope with the notion that this dream isn’t reciprocated. Some of the most famous love songs in history suggest a feeling that we would otherwise label a mental problem (Harry Nilsson, you most definitely can go on living without this person, stop dwelling on it and move on because you’re sounding dangerously obsessed). And so, in this most joyous of love-filled musicals, Demy can’t help but slip in the notion that the thing we’re all here grinning over might not always be so fantastic. A disclaimer that such Hollywood dreams of love can teeter dangerously close to nightmare.

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