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Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris Movie Review

song stories film style

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris features dozens of deeply moving song-stories about love, death, loneliness, bullfighting, old age, war, and bittersweet romance. “Carousel” perhaps best illustrates Brel's style. The tune begins cheerfully, with a sense of magic. We hear of cotton candy. The lovely, gay mood of the song shifts. The rhythm speeds up. The carousel is no longer pleasant but dizzy. It becomes a metaphor for life, a mad whirl from which there is no escape. The song ends in terror. The theme of beautiful, bright things turning ugly and frightening is developed in other song-stories; in “The Bulls,” there is cheering at the beginning. Gradually, the glories of past wars are lauded, along with the matador. Finally, he cries, “Saigon!” No cheers this time. The score for the original cast show album is a classic; it was awarded a Grammy nomination in 1968. In an intimate, cabaret-style setting, song-stories like “If You Go Away,” “The Middle Class,” “Marieke,” “Funeral Tango,” and “Brussels” can be seen and heard to best advantage. But not even the participation of Jacques Brel himself could recapture a delightful evening in the theatre on film. This American Film Theatre Production is an unimaginative transfer, and viewers of the future may well wonder why the work of Jacques Brel was loved so much by the audiences of his own time.

1975 98m/C FR Elly Stone, Mort Shuman, Joe Masiell, Jacques Brel; D: Denis Heroux; W: Eric Blau; C: Rene Verzier; M: Jacques Brel.

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