Bay of Angels is quite different than anything else I have seen by Jacques Demy. Similar to Lola (1961) it is shot in starkly beautiful black and white and it has a kind of love story, but it lacks the music or general whimsy that often characterized Demy’s later works.
This film finds its subject matter in gambling, and it follows one woman’s obsession and another man’s growing interest in roulette. At first, Jean is a rather bored young bank employee, who is coaxed by a colleague to take up gambling. Initially, he is skeptical, looking down at the pastime as a frivolous waste of time and money, after all, he is a sensible young man. However, he parts with the sensibilities that his father would have for him and instead take a few weeks of vacation to spend some time in the casinos of Nice and Monte Carlo.
Soon he gets bitten by the gambling bug and he’s hooked. He finds an equally enthused companion in Jackie (Jeanne Moreau), who has had a far longer history with roulette. Jean falls for her very quickly and Jackie holds onto him like her good luck charm. Their many days spent in the casinos are constantly fluctuating roller coasters of luck. Once gambler’s fallacy has taken hold it’s hard to kick the habit, and Jackie constantly blows her money. If not at the wheels, it gets spent on fine dining and clothes. She has no restraint when it comes to spending and Jean indulges her willfully. It gets so bad that Jean begins to get as reckless as his companion, and he cannot bear to leave her, although she really does have a problem.
The formally reserved persona of Jean becomes violent and passionate for Jackie’s affection, but she’s not quite as ready to give it out. The ending felt a bit forced, but yet again Demy delivers a story that is riddled with feelings of love and passion.
It is an interesting observation that his male characters pale in comparison with his female leads ranging from Anouk Aimee, Jeanne Moreau, and Catherine Deneuve. These ladies who are always the object of affection, steal the screen with their mesmerizing performances. In fact, Claude Mann has a rather slumping posture, a glum face, and not particularly good looks. Thus, in contrast, Jeanne Moreau looks like an especially alluring beauty, who seems at home in gaudy gambling houses billowing with smoke or seaside promenades.
Bay of Angels is supposedly the place that brings the pair luck, but the reality is that this film is all about chance. Not fate so much as Demy usually explores, but a topic that is still somewhat similar. It is also a film that makes me never want to play roulette. I do not want the mundane lifestyle of Jean, but I would like to find my excitement somewhere else. I suppose that’s what made Moreau’s character so fascinating because her obsession was so great and yet she simply accepted it and thought little of it. But it drove her life.
“We’re partners in a game. Let’s leave it at that.” ~ Jackie