Gigi (1949)

Synopsis:

In the late 19th century Paris, France, a teenage girl (Daniélle Delorme, Pardon Mon Affaire) is being trained to be the mistress of a wealthy man. But the young lady makes the mistake of falling in love with the prospective client.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Collete’s 1944 novella sans music & songs. The book’s depiction of the courtesan culture has entered moviegoers’ collective consciousness thanks to Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 Oscar-winning musical Gigi. Both versions of Collete’s novella are very good — there are some interesting similarities and differences between the two adaptations.

I’ve seen the 1958 musical countless times and I know its narrative by heart. This Gigi has the same plot and characters as the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical. The most notable difference is Gigi’s attitude. Danièle Delorme’s Gigi isn’t as innocent as Leslie Caron’s Gigi — she seems to fully understand what the world of a courtesan entails.

Stylistically, the two movies are like night and day, though. This version was shot modestly in black & white in France. The plain-looking sets and costumes give the film a grittiness that’s the very antithesis of its musical counterpart. Interestingly, this version moves slower than the 1958 movie despite being much shorter — I think musical numbers helped move the story along faster.

This Gigi also has simple camera set ups, allowing the actors and dialogue to take center stage. Director Jacqueline Audry’s work is very low-key, understatedly mocking the characters and their predicaments in typical French manner. Audry clearly shows contempt for a society that condones the objectification of women.

The actors are very good, especially Delorme as Gigi. She’s delightful from beginning to end. Gaby Morlay (Le Plaisir), who plays Aunt Alicia, was very good too. I did think that the acting in the 1958 movie was far superior. Maurice Chevalier’s charm, Louis Jordan’s charisma and Hermione Gingold’s warmth were sorely missed.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Gigi is a charming little Parisian comedy. Although I found it impossible to look at the film without thinking of Minnelli’s classic, I appreciated its very Gallic humor and atmosphere. Let’s just say that each version reflects the sensibilities of the directors who made them: one was made by a female filmmaker in France, the other by a man in America. Anyhow, if you love the famous MGM musical, you may want to check this one out. B&W, 82 minutes, Not Rated.

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