As delicate and aromatic as her summer garden in Saint-Tropez, Jacques Demy’s adaptation of Colette’s 1928 novella La naissance du jour gently and deeply flowers in the self-reflective light of her mother’s recent death, the end of her second marriage a few years earlier, and her own feeling of no longer being young. This fine film, made for French television, spills out in stream-of-consciousness as Colette struggles to write the book and to cope with a naggingly reticent lover who, at 35, is twenty years her junior. (In reality, Sidonie-Gabriel Colette and Maurice Goudeket—here, Vial—would eventually marry.) Each “break of day” is a small, indecisive victory over mortal anxiety.
Despite being Colette, Colette doesn’t “hold court”; she strives to blend in with a small crowd of acquaintances. “Friendship,” she says, “is a cry for sanctuary,” and she calls Vial her friend—to which he snaps back he has never considered them “friends.” But we understand what she is doing: soliciting reassurance that he loves her. (He does.) It is for the same reason that Colette presses Vial to become romantically involved with Hélène Clément, a young artist with whom Vial flirted the previous summer. Vial wants no part of Hélène, who is unabashedly in love with Vial; Colette seeks confirmation of Vial’s fidelity. She professes not to think at all about the difference in their ages; but, of course, she does. She repeatedly refers to Vial as “a young man” because she worries she is too old for him.
The inequality of the principal relationships helps give Demy’s film its subtle ache. For instance, Hélène solicits Colette’s approval of her paintings—and, even more nakedly, of her personality, her being. In Dominique Sanda’s exquisite portrayal, Hélène is perilously close to being a “basket case.”
Danièle Delorme is superb as Colette. In a hilarious flashback, Marcel Pagnol’s Orane Demazis is a hoot as Colette’s concerned mother.
Women can decide for themselves how successfully Demy has dipped into the feminine consciousness and soul.
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