Model Shop (1969)


(director/writer: Jacques Demy; cinematographer: Michel Hugo; editor: Walter Thompson; music: Spirit; cast: Anouk Aimée (Lola aka Cecile), Gary Lockwood (George Matthews), Alexandra Hay (Gloria), Carol Cole (Barbara), Tom Fielding (Gerry), Neil Elliot (Fred), Duke Hobbie (David), Jay Ferguson (Jay), Hilary Thompson (hippie hitch-hiker); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jacques Demy; Columbia Pictures; 1969)
“A brilliant bitter-sweet understated look at life in America during the Viet Nam War.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The only American film from French New Wave director Jacques Demy (“The Young Girls of Rochefort”/”Bay of the Angels”/”The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”) is a brilliant bitter-sweet understated look at life in America during the Viet Nam War. It’s a plotless tale of one eventful 24-hours in the life of a disillusioned, low-key 26-year-old idealistic unemployed architect, George Matthews (Gary Lockwood, 32 at the time), living in poverty in a Los Angeles rented bungalow with his materialistic aspiring actress hottie girlfriend Gloria (Alexandra Hay). George has lost his bearings and has no one to listen to him, and has become anti-social, alienated and dysfunctional. On top of that, George’s about to have his beloved sports car convertible repossessed by the finance company unless he can borrow $100 by the afternoon. With that George turns to a friend who works in a parking lot, who turns him down because he’s still waiting for payment on the money lent before. On an impulse, George follows by car a beautiful mysterious woman dressed in white, who parked her car at the garage and is heading for the hills off Sunset Strip to where she lives. The elegant woman turns out to be the heroine Lola (Anouk Aimée, reprising her role of Lola) from Demy’s first ever film “Lola.” She’s now a divorced transplanted Parisian forced to support herself working as a model in a seedy photographer’s shop (where customers rent a camera to take pictures of her in lewd poses) and about to return to Paris to reunite again with her 14-year-son she sorely misses as soon as she gets enough money for air fare.

George ends up having a drink with Lola at her place after borrowing the money from a cool musician friend (Jay Ferguson), the leader of the rock group Spirit, but then neglects to pay off the loan to the finance company. He will later that day find out from his estranged folks in San Francisco that he received his draft notice and that Gloria is moving in with the guy who helped her land an acting gig.

The two lost souls, George and Lola, have a one-night stand, and depart their separate ways after promising to write each other. This brief affair is viewed as possibly being more profound than at first thought because of the sensitive way they touched each other at a time when both were down and needed someone to comfort them in a loving way.

It plays like a minor work without Demy’s usual fairy-tale motifs, but I loved it as a moving dream-like mood piece that realistically and intimately caught in a refreshing way a slice-of-life in the lyrically depicted LA landscape of freeways and shopping strip-malls. It makes a good companion piece for the Italian filmmaker Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and his look at youthful malaise in the America of the 1960s.

Demy was assisted with the English-language screenplay by Carole Eastman. This under-appreciated film unfortunately bombed at the box office and passed under the radar with most critics, but I believe it deserves another look and a reevaluation (I would like to see it again before judging it a masterpiece). It’s a surprisingly poignant film that has dated very well, better than most American films about the Sixties, and had its finger on the emotional pulse on what the hungering for love means to those who were starving for love.