#322. Gigi (1958)

Gigi’s a good movie and exceptionally beautiful to look at but, in taking account of everything I liked about it, I decided it was mostly that: pretty; and with a runtime just under two hours I think the prettiness exhausts its welcome; but, as I’ve mentioned already with movies like Camille and Peter Ibbetson and Queen Christina and The Man in Grey, I don’t generally enjoy period pieces, and I don’t really like romances, and it’s simply my great misfortune that the two genres are so often paired on this List.

            But it isn’t a blatant sweeping prejudice! I really enjoyed the two turns Max Ophuls had at the period romance, Letter from an Unknown Woman and The Earrings of Madame de…, and in mourning the death of Olivia de Havilland a couple weeks ago I was thinking mostly of the quiet vengeful misery she showcases in The Heiress; also, while I kinda hate the work of Lucino Visconti, his period romance Senso fucked me up big time for the way that it addresses, as few movies do, the way that love degrades a person, beautifully and necessarily, because it creates a circumstance in which you readily (sometimes gladly) surrender your pride and principles for your loved one.

            Gigi was pleasant but the only thing that struck me as memorable was Maurice Chevalier—who’s appeared on the List only once before, in Love Me Tonight, which is another romance that I very much like–although, to be honest, it was gussied up for me, thrill-wise, because it was one of the first talkies on the List, and also becauseI was late to the game in realizing that Pepe Le Pew is based on an a 1930s heartthrob (Gigi’s also released on the 30th anniversary of The Jazz Singer, the very first (partial) talkie).

            Here, Chevalier plays the dapper, mannered, and properly avuncular uncle to our heroine Gigi (actor) and—if I may brace you for a dour note that’ll be struck quite a few times over the next few essays—I watched Gigi at the start of what became a very messy weeklong breakup, and what I remember most pointedly is feeling my heart swell at Maurice Chevalier’s rendition of “I’m Glad That I’m Not Young Anymore” in a single flat shot, seated at a patio café. It’s a beautiful and upbeat song that totally captured what I was feeling with the ongoing breakup—I probably listened to it a hundred times over the course of that week, telling myself, “Listen to Maurice. The pain is fleeting. Listen to Maurice…”

            So while I’m definitely not a fan of Gigi I do think I can tell at this point when a romantic period piece is exceptionally good—and, given the tides of my interests and how they turn over every few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if, a dozen years ago, I suddenly fall in love with period romances. Should that be the case, I know Gigi will be up there as one of the first titles I revisit. It’s beautiful and playful. Pretty much absent of the grief that tends to fill these period pieces.

            Which is valuable right now, during what the Volvo commercials call “these trying times…”

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