Bay of Angels

A couple of interesting things occur in Jacques Demy’s 1963 film “Bay of Angels,” or “La baie des anges (French title).” A man (Claude Mann) gets hooked into a gambling binge by a colleague at work and goes to a casino in Nice where he meets a compulsive gambler played by Jeanne Moreau. Although the couple engage in a romantic relationship, their time together is defined by the power emitted by the gambling urge. They win and lose and the viewer gets the feeling that they will go on doing this forever.

Claude Mann and Jeanne Moreau star in "Bay of Angels."

Claude Mann and Jeanne Moreau star in “Bay of Angels.”

Moreau plays Jackie, the former wife of an industrialist who has given up everything to play roulette. She’s elegant in her Pierre Cardin dresses and gowns, but the ravishes of her slavery to gambling mean she’s long sold her jewelry to squander at roulette.   Mann plays Jean, a bank clerk with a strong skepticism for gamblers and the gambling life who falls prey to an addicted colleague after a single visit to a Paris casino. Jean wins big and decides to drop out by going on a long vacation to the casinos on the Riviera. Eventually, he meets Jackie, who casts a spell on him that can’t easily be dissolved.

Since a lot of the movie happens at the roulette table, many scenes involve the sights and sounds of the croupier. Jean and Jackie pick numbers and colors and we hear the sound of the wheel as the ball comes to a stop. I think the director, Jacques Demy, wanted to stress the monotony of the gambling life. Even when Jackie and Jean win, the excitement seems muted while Demy concentrates on the dynamics of the gambling couple. After a big win, they allow themselves to spend liberally and go off to Monte Carlo for even more gambling.

Jackie clearly states that her motivation for gambling involves the thrill and not the money. Clearly, this must be the case because she’s given up both her rich husband back in Paris as well as her little boy for the gambling life. By the end of the film, we know everything about the gambling couple, so it’s good the film clocks in at only 90 minutes.

The Criterion Collection DVD presents a fine restoration produced by the Cinémathèque Française, with an excellent score by Michel Legrand. Demy presents a black and white film with a black and white “color” palette. Moreau wears a white dress for much of the film, which combined with her white hair, makes her look like a guiding spirit. The restoration also does a good job of balancing the high contrast and washed-out gleam of the brightly lit locations of Nice and Monte Carlo.

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