LA Story

Jacques Demy, Model Shop, 1969, stills from a color film in 35 mm, 97 minutes. Left: George Matthews and Lola (Gary Lockwood and Anouk Aimée). Right: Gloria and George Matthews (Alexandra Hay and Gary Lockwood).

UNJUSTLY NEGLECTED, Jacques Demy’s Model Shop—the director’s first and only film set in the US—is finally available on DVD forty years after its initial release. One of cinema’s most unabashed dreamers and romantics, Demy was offered a contract by Columbia Pictures in 1967 to make films in America, thanks to the critical and popular success of his third feature, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), the all-sung melancholy musical that launched Catherine Deneuve’s career.

“I’m trying to create a world in my films,” Demy, who would transform the port town of Rochefort into a pastel-hued mini-universe in The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), once said. But in Model Shop (which Demy also cowrote and produced), set in Los Angeles and filmed in 1968, the awestruck director is content to capture, rather than manipulate, the majesty of his new city. The film follows twenty-four hours in the life of George (Gary Lockwood, star of 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, though Demy originally wanted then-little-known Harrison Ford), an unemployed architect trying to scrape up one hundred dollars so his green MG won’t be repossessed. Model Shop is just as besotted with the City of Angels as its protagonist is. Driving up to the Hollywood Hills, George takes in a spectacular view of Los Angeles, later remarking to a friend, “I was really moved by the geometry of the city, its baroque harmony. It’s a fabulous city. It’s pure poetry.”

During that memorable drive, George is in pursuit of an enigmatic Frenchwoman, Lola (Anouk Aimée), whom he will follow to her titular place of employment, where men pay to photograph women in various intimate settings and poses. As becomes clear when Lola and George go back to her apartment, Model Shop is also an oblique sequel to Demy’s first feature, 1961’s Lola, which starred Aimée as a nightclub singer in Nantes waiting for the father of her child to return. While Lola recounts to George, who’s just been called up for the draft, the last seven years of her life (working in a sly reference to Demy’s 1963 film, Bay of Angels), the theme of Model Shop becomes clear: the restorative, if tentative, power of love. “You make me believe anything is possible,” the once-malcontent George says to Lola the morning after. Even though the specter of the Vietnam War looms in several scenes (whether as car-radio broadcast, in conversation, or George’s confession that he’s afraid of death), Demy still finds reason for hope, no matter how fragile. Or, as the film’s tagline put it: “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never. Maybe.”

Jacques Demy’s Model Shop is available on DVD beginning September 8.