Gigi's narrative movement tracks the linear progression of girlhood adolescence into somewhat more mature womanhood and feminine desire. Rife with contradictory pleasures, Gigi is composed with equal hands enchantment and sad, impotent reflection. We first meet Gigi as a mere aspect of the background action of the frame. The film opens with Maurice Chevalier as Honore, carefully centered in the frame as the initial figure for spectatorial identification. An aging to elderly man, he thanks the heavens for little girls, and he sings a charming tune that seems benignly pleasant and optimistic. The visual rhyme is composed of the ease and careful strolling of the handsome older man which has subtle interruptions of unordered movement of these young girls; darting somewhat hapharzardly in between background and foreground action.
Instability of movement is integral to Gigi's trajectory. She is one of these girls in the frame, and she is brought into focus only by the unsung vocal storytelling of Honore. She is as much conjured by his imagination, a figure fueled by his fantasies and desires, as she is an actual character in the film. Not unlike Charisse in Brigadoon, but without the more obvious plotline, Gigi remains both a figure of older male imagination as well as an index pointing to female identification, characterised by her refusal to grow up into the model of elite femininity that is ordered by her family and society. The quiet visual dualities are complicated by aural incongruities. Both Honore's song and his spoken narration signify both romantic pleasure and a dirge to the lost romantic possibilities of an aging man.
Gigi is an interesting mesh of girlhood rebellion and precocious sexuality. Caron is partially playing her as an innocent girl, often phsically clumsy and off handedly graceful, bounding up her home's green moss -covered stairs in steps of two and flopping herself down with emphatic speed and weight. Her role as a visual image is complicated by the obvious performative nature of this immaturity and jouissance. The simultaneously garish and eye-popping depth of color to her green and red plaid school girl jumper and her primary blue sailor -ish school girl dress is matched only by the saturated opaqueness of her velvety red home -- blanketed in this impenetrable and passionate (and sexual) color from wall to furnishings. Initially appearing to be a corrective to the proliferance of the femme fatale, Gigi is actually equally as fetishized a visual image. Just as the femme fatales overcomensated by distraction: overtly sexual behavior and dress, physical mannerisms and delivery, Gigi's overly performed youth also creates an instability in the image. Along those lines, the near bawdiness of the deep reds and pinks and solid blues further illustrate the performance and production of the role of innocent girl. If a fetish overcompensates for a psychological anxiety, then in Gigi it indexes the general anxiety expressed by many of the film's key characters (including Gigi) -- that of the passage of time and the loss of romantic desire.
These anxieties are visually and spatially reflected in both the song Honore opens the film with, and in two early musical numbers sung by Gaston (the first of which is shared with Honore.) In "What a Bore" Gaston evokes a world devoid of interest or excitement, but as Honore contests each verse with the magic of the Seine or of the Tour Eiffel, Gaston shoots him down with what sound like classically bourgeois negations. The immobility of the adults is tied in to the enchantment that is felt only by the young, or by those adults who exist in a frame that is continually surrounded by the movement of young women. The film actually depicts elitist social mores as stiff and frozen: in certain scenes, by the tennis court and in the dining hall, glances in the background can catch society type characters who seem frozen into an elitist pose. The scene when Gaston takes Laine out to the dining hall ("She's Not Thinking of Me") creates a freezing of both image and sound (albeit sans the actual mechanism of the fully stopped frame or of the edit). Gaston's dialogue is suddenly cut out and we only see his lips move as he walks in. All the diegetic sound is abruptly replaced by affectedly loud voiceover acting as a collective societal whisper to gossip about him and his date (along with other men and their respective dates.)
Gigi is as much a girl is she is a woman or cinema itself. She is a conjured image, tailor made for a man desperate not to lose the desire that triggers his movement, both in romantic narrative trajectories and in social climbs to success. But Gigi is a film as much about the anxieties of aging and losing one's youth as it is about the ephemerality of ATTRACTION itself. The short-lived duration of girlhood to the sexual female figure is as brief a turn as the entirety of many of the film's romantic relationships. Both Gaston and Honore are seen to have (ahem) more than a few different romantic partners. If desire is short lived, what is Gigi's half life? Aflter all, every woman was young once. Is Gigi really unique, or only for this tiny glimpse of time? Her mutability, her performed innocence and her contradiction of youth and romantic appeal are all the components to trigger the look of male desire.
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