Honore Lachaille’s (Maurice Chevalier) songs were creepy, and the sprechgesang killed me during the movie. But by being pretty, this movie can get away with not aging well in content. Now that that’s out of the way, Lachaille’s first song, although it raises eyebrows today, is about the new generation. It’s up to personal interpretation whether it foreshadows what changes the new generation it might bring.
“Gigi,” set in the French Gilded Age, fits well in the 1950’s depiction of women as it turns her from whore into wife. In the centre of all this drama are two relatively young people, teenager Gigi (Leslie Caron) and Lachaille’s nephew Gaston (39-year-old Louis Jourdan). Both have complaints about the life they’re born into. Gigi feels tiresome of the ‘love’ everyone talks about, while Gaston sings about boredom, an audacious statement for someone of his stature living in that era. They fall in love, he asks for an arrangement for her because her family’s breeds courtesans, not wives.
The end of the movie obviously has its pivotal moments. It’s Gigi’s first time at the notorious Maxim’s but she talks as if she knows everybody’s business. She talks about dipped pearls, but pulls back into a mature version of a comment would have reminded him when she was young and innocent. But he’s still angry about this new Gigi, takes her home, but changes his mind, breaks her family tradition and asks for her hand in marriage. Anyone else can look at the situation as a man still having control of his woman. What I see is Gaston putting a stop to the condemnation of womanhood that his civilization is used to.
Gigi is also played by Audrey Hepburn in a 1952 stage play version. I like Leslie Caron better, incorporating exuberance, flexibility and self-doubt into the character. Hepburn’s played period princesses in the golden age of her career, but I always feel her performances are a bit flat. Someone prove me wrong, please.