Sound to Screen

Do you ever wonder how filmmakers work with musicians to compile our favourite movie soundtracks? That’s what I did yesterday when I gave up the thought of making a list with some of the best films that have been released in Cannes and where to stream them right now, in sight of the festival being cancelled this year. It didn’t feel right. We can binge-watch all the films available online, but nothing will replace the experience from inside a theatre, especially a movie premiere, especially at a festival. It sets you up to pay attention, it resets your emotions. And the days following the premiere, there’s something special about them, too, with all the thoughts and talks focused on what you have just witnessed, arming yourself with opinions to discuss, praise or defend a film that may stay with you forever. It’s not just about watching movies, it’s about film culture. And people who care about culture want to keep it alive.

Film music is part of our fascination with cinema and the big screen. So here is how film and music intersect in three of my favourite films that have opened in Cannes over the years.


Drive, 2011

With uncanny skill, in league with cameraman Newton Thomas Sigel and composer Cliff Martinez, director Nicolas Winding Refn blends tough and tender, violence and beauty. Drive is wild and damn good. Even the scorpion sign on Ryan Gosling’s cult jacket has a musical reference. The director and his lead actor both had their say in choosing the scorpion logo, too, a nod to one of the first music videos ever, Scorpio Rising, made by Kenneth Anger. A tribute to a time of avant garde filmmaking. Drive is indeed a film that, in every aspect of its making, shows respect to craft.

Refn told NPR in 2011 that before he filmed Drive, he hadn’t spent much time in Los Angeles, but he and Gosling developed the film while driving around the city, listening to songs on the car radio, and the songs on the soundtrack “were chosen to mimic and enhance both the isolation and the emotion of sitting behind the wheel of a car, closed off from the world passing by outside”. Key for establishing the sound of the movie was the song “A Real Hero” by College, Refn explained, “because that, just by [coincidence], had a lyric that also described my idea for the movie. To me it was the story about a character, the protagonist, who lived in two worlds. By day he was a human being and by night he was a hero.”

Ryan Gosling is Driver in Drive. Driver drives for hire. He is a part-time mechanic and Hollywood stunt racer who moonlights as a getaway wheel man. Gosling is silent, stoic, mysterious, a loner. He drives through the streets of Los Angeles on the soundtrack of melodic electronic songs and Cliff Martinez’s shimmering score, and music becomes a way “to express his emotions, like almost a way for him to cry,” said Refn, confessing that music is the most important tool a director has to work with because music enhances emotion.

“One thing that was unique for me about this project was having songs exert such a strong influence on the score,” Cliff Martinez, the composer, told Invada Records. “That helped to create a unified, one-size-fits-all, style of soundtrack… the 80s electronic pop style made a lot of sense to me. I knew that Nicolas was in love with that sound and I saw a way to acknowledge it with vintage synth sounds and cover most of the dramatic food groups while referencing that style.”

The Drive soundtrack features original music by Cliff Martinez (Traffic) with songs by Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx (“Nightcall”), The Chromatics (“Tick of the Clock”), Desire (“Under Your Spell”), College featuring Electric Youth (“A Real Hero”), and Riziero Ortolani featuring Katyna Ranieri (“Oh My Love”).

Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013

I remember when I was watching Only Lovers Left Alive and the sequence with Yasmine Hamdan performing “Hal” occurred, towards the end of the movie. I’m not sure I can even describe that feeling in words, but it was like hitting that point when you sensed you were finally completely being drawn into the world of the two characters, dark and timeless and otherworldly and overwhelming. I sometimes listen to that song, but the effect is not even closely the same. For me, that song lives in that film. The two forms of art form a common language. The song was not composed for Jarmusch’s film, and that makes its effect all the more striking. When Tilda Swinton’s character, Eve, suggests that Hamdan should be better known, Tom Hiddleston’s character, Adam, says she shouldn’t, because “she’s too good”. Maybe the song is only meant to come alive in the film, in that story, because I am not sure an appropriate moment exists in real life. Maybe only in Tangier, “a place where, unlike Marrakech, the old world and new world are not separated by a gulf as though looking at each other. It’s all mixed,” as the director described the atmosphere and location for his film for Vice magazine.

There is a musical undercurrent in all of Jim Jarmusch’s films. And all the more so in Only Lovers. Adam and Eve are vampires, Adam is also a musician, which makes him a century-old musician whose music is catching on in the underground nightclubs of a ghostly Detroit, the other location of the film. Music is so much part of Jarmusch’s movies, it is woven into the celluloid. It is, reportedly, what kickstarts his ideas and imagination when he is writing a script.

The music for Only Lovers Left Alive was composed by Jarmusch’s own band SQÜRL and he also brought in his frequent collaborator, Dutch lute player Jozef Van Wissem, to compose some of the film’s incidental music. This compilation of sounds resulted in an entrancing blend between past and present, between minimal orchestration and haunting vocals (the score features guest appearances from Zola Jesus, Yasmine Hamdan and Madeline Follin of Cults), a perfect analogy for Adam and Eve’s vampire characters. Jim Jarmusch’s soundtracks give voice to his drifters and dreamers, and, in turn, the characters come alive through the music and enter our own imagination.

Pulp Fiction, 1994

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is my favourite Tarantino movie. There is so much I love about it, and the music is part of it, because the film is not only a feast for your eyes, but for your ears, too. Every time a car starts, the music starts blasting from the radio. It was the 1960s. Music was very much part of the culture, and there was a car-based culture, and music was mainly listened to on the radio in the car. Tarantino brilliantly captured that feeling, that mood. We don’t get to listen only to the music from that time, but to radio shows, too, that’s how far the director went to portray the atmosphere from back in the day.

But before Quentin Tarantino gave us Once Upon a Time…, he gave us Pulp Fiction, his Palme d’Or winner. And one of the greatest mixtape soundtracks ever made. When he executive produced the soundtrack album, Tarantino rearranged the sequence of the songs on the track list the same way he played with chronology in the film. “Having Misirlou’ as your opening credit, it’s just so intense,” Tarantino said in 1994 about Dick Dale and His Del-Tones’ song. “It just says you’re watching an epic, you’re watching a big ol’ movie. It just throws down a gauntlet that the movie now has to live up to it.”

The song dates back to 1927 and Dale surf-rocked it up in the 1960s. It’s what Tarantino does so well with all the songs he uses in his films. He compiles preexisting music and makes it sound new in his films. He revives it, he gives it new life, he brings it to or back to the public’s attention, and it’s not just because the songs are good, but because of the way each song is paired with each scene. Sound and vision form a union. From this very reason, Ennio Morricone was hesitant working with him when Tarantino approached the composer to write the music for The Hateful Eight. “Tarantino often appropriated my music to dislocate it in a completely different context from the one it was meant for. Part of my reluctance to work with him derived from the fact that I was somewhat afraid to come up with new music for him, as I feared he might be too conditioned by his own musical habits…,” the composer said in his book.

Tarantino is a director who uses music in a very singular way. More than that, one of the biggest accomplishments of Tarantino’s films is that “so many people, such a wide and diversified audience, watch his films, and it appears that young people especially get in touch with my music primarily through his cinema,” Morricone further concluded. There’s really nothing much to add to that. Except that, in Ennio Morricone’s words again, “music is mysterious, it doesn’t offer many answers. Film music, on the other hand, is even more mysterious at times, both because of its bond with images and because of its way of bonding with the audience.”
More stories: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood: Everything I hoped It Would Be and More / Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words / Ryan Gosling and His Otherworldly Jacket in Drive

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Beyond Character: Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider in “Max et les Ferrailleurs”

Romy Schneider in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

A bleak, dark detective story that taps into noir, Claude Sautet’s Max et les ferrailleurs (1971) is more than a “policier” film. It draws two fine character studies: Michel Piccoli’s Max, a former judge converted into a cop, and Romy Schneider’s Lily, a prostitute linked to a gang of hard-luck, two-time crooks whom he wants to catch in order to restore his recently tarnished reputation in the department.

But he is “no ordinary policeman”, as his superior says. Independently wealthy, he renounced being an examining judge because he wanted to be in the midst of the action. His job is more than a job. He is a solitary, no-family man, a dedicated, methodical police detective, even amoral in his willingness to catch the criminals at all costs, even if this means planning the crime himself. Catching them red-handed becomes an obsession and his job is more like a rite to him, nothing deters him from his mission, and this monastic feeling that seems driven by an inner calling rather than policeman duty and righteousness, is evident in the way he dresses, too. His pin-striped black suit, white shirt, black tie and fedora are like a uniform (he is always buttoned-up, even when at home, playing cards), very much in the vein of Alain Delon’s Le Samouraï, or, as a matter of fact, a few others of Jean-Pierre Melville’s anti-heroes. The look in Max’s eyes, when filmed in close-up, is so blank and unflinching that he may very well be carrying a gun in his hands (you are almost surprised that he doesn’t when the camera moves away), that, indeed, he may very well be one of the criminals. Sautet inverts in fact the moral dilemma of the crime film and makes the criminals more sympathetic than the lawman. Nothing can disturb Max’s icy exterior, nothing distracts his attention, not even Lily. She is no ordinary prostitute either. She is the brain behind the gang of small-time criminals and it is her ambition that will get them all into trouble.

Michel Piccoli in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

I would like to return for a moment to this association with Jean-Pierre Melville. Melville’s films are his own, an individualistic genre, infused by understatement and a sense of cool, an idealised world of mobsters and thugs, living and dying by a certain code of honour – ”Mellvilian” is part of the dictionary of cinema just as much as “Fellinian” and “Hitchcockian” are.

Claude Sautet however, with films such as his sublime first feature, Classe tous risques, from 1960, and Max et les ferrailleurs (“an unavoidable detour through the crime movies”, Truffaut named them), had much to bring on his own to the genre. Melville created a universe completely stylized, a world of men stripped by emotions, families, wives and lovers, and in his films it is undeniably this imaginary world that takes hold of you. Sautet’s stories, on the other hand, even those of cops and crooks, do not lose the human grip, as elusive as it may be (just as his other films, even the most lighthearted, have a dark vein running trough them). In Classe tous risques, Lino Ventura, terrific in his role, is a doomed man on the run, he has a sad, liven-in face. His clothes look lived-in , too. His trousers and jacket reflect his turmoil and disrupted life. Only when he goes off to settle matters with his former partners he puts on a trench coat. He has to look like he means business, because he does, and his children are his only drive. He can not escape his fate, but he must do right by his children. You may not condone his criminal past, but you understand the actions that drive him now. In the same sense, you may not understand or approve of the life of characters such as Max or Lily, but Sautet has the ability to create these moments when you root for them, and which seem anchored in everyday reality.

Romy Schneider and Michel Piccoli in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

There is a scene when Lily takes a bath in Max’s apartment. He throws her his hat and takes pictures of her naked and wearing his hat. It is Max who is playing her, paying her not for sex but for spending time with him, toying with her body and her emotions to scheme his plan. But using her for criminal thought inception won’t leave him unscathed. He does have a breaking point but it remains unseen right until the end. And the end will take you completely by surprise. This impenetrable character is all the more surprising, brilliantly conceived and played, as he is playing opposite one of the most beautiful women in the history of cinema, Romy Schneider.

“She was not only a magnificent actress, she was a star,” is how Michel Piccoli spoke of Romy in an interview for L’Express in 2000. They were friends and had a wonderful rapport on the screen, and worked together on a few Claude Sautet films – Piccoli was in fact reticent to accept the role of Max because he considered Sautet shouldn’t have brought him and Romy back together on screen so soon (they had made Les choses de la vie a year earlier). “I called her ‘la schleu’. I said to her, ‘You are ugly today, badly made up.’ It reassured her that I spoke to her like that. People are so suspicious of these exceptional people. It is terrible to be a star. All the more so when one is a woman. Of course, there are more painful things, but it is a permanent aggression. Sometimes people ask me if I suspected this tragic fate that Romy was going to have. I had no doubt about it. Since I met her, her life had been a tragedy … On the one hand, she represented this splendid and happy woman. On the other hand, she always had this terrible pain that she carried with her.”

Romy Schneider in Yves Saint Laurent in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

She is again wearing Yves Saint Laurent in Max et les ferrailleurs. But this in no way distracts us from the plot. Because Yves Saint Laurent had an “immediate and astounding sense of costume”, in the words of Roland Petit. The designer chose a very sexy wardrobe for Romy in this film. Violet or red low-cut dresses, form-fitting black dress with plunging neckline, ribbon tied around the neck, and the black patent trench coat – the revival of the vinyl trench five years after Catherine Deneuve wore hers for another prostitute role, that of Severine in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour.

Saint Laurent’s spring-summer collection from 1971, dubbed “The Forties” or “Liberation” collection, was surrounded by controversy as the square shoulders, bouffant sleeves, platform shoes, shortened dresses, seductive make-up alluded to “the women of easy virtue” in Paris during the occupation. “This collection, which everyone is calling kitsch, was a reaction to the absurd direction fashion was taking… So I conceived my collection as a humorous protest which everyone took seriously,” Saint Laurent remarked. He was already thinking of giving up haute couture, because his real public were “young, working women” and he wanted to make garments to reflect them and the women he personally liked. “I don’t see the point of changing garments from one season to the next if they are right, whether it’s a pea jacket or jeans, a tuxedo or a trench coat. This was so true that I would up making the same things for couture and for ready-to-wear. The more perfect the garment, the simpler it is.” Yves Saint Laurent not only changed fashion, but he left a particular mark in cinema, too. He had this great ability to understand a personality and an era, therefore a movie character, too, and translate them into clothes that were an expression of the women beneath them. That’s why so many directors, from Truffaut to Buñuel and Sautet wanted to work with him.

Lily is wearing jeans, a plain t-shirt and a bomber jacket in the last sequence. It’s a completely different look than what she wears until that moment. Finally, this is she, her real self, the woman behind the clothes, that we see, because, as a prostitute, she’s only playing a role. How more eloquently than through clothes can this separation be made?

Romy Schneider and Michel Piccoli in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

Editorial sources: The Films in My Life, by François Truffaut / Yves Saint Laurent, published by Foundation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint / interview with Michel Piccoli, “Michel Piccoli, l’intransigeant”, L’Express, 30 September, 2000

More stories: Dressing the Classes: from The Rules of the Game to Gosford Park / Jacques Demy in Black & White and His Quiet Heroines / This Summer We’re Channelling: Carole Bouquet in His Eyes Only

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A Denim Story

A new reality, a newly found lifestyle. And yet, some things never change. Quite the contrary. You experience a new, deeper appreciation for the simplest of things. And the words “style is a reflection of your lifestyle” (more country living, less city walks, social gatherings or conventional office work for the foreseeable future) ring truer than ever before.

For someone who has always found inspiration in books, magazines and movies, the book A Denim Story*, by Emily Current, Meritt Elliott and Hilary Walsh, makes for one of the best style references, especially these days. More than anything else, it reveals how jeans, and denim, used to stand for more than a fashion item, taking the role of a symbol – of a lifestyle, of moral convictions, of individual expression, of adventurous dispositions. But, most of all, that of an active participant to one’s work and life. They were made for working, for living, carrying a nostalgic sensibility to things well made and still retaining the robust, authentic appeal and individual rebellion that they have always possessed. The book insists on an aesthetic inspired by boyish silhouettes, on simplicity over polish, creating visual stories that seem depicted from real-life, not fashion editorial-ready. A farmer on the field, a child at play, an actor on the set, an artist at work, in their jeans – therein lies the endless fascination with denim. It is part of life, of the everyday man, woman and child.

And if you have a look at my style conversations with my guests here on the site, as shown in the following paragraphs, whenever jeans come into discussion, they are not taken out of the context of their lives and works and worldviews – these are real people leading real lives, having more interesting stories to tell than the clothes they put on in the morning. And that’s why those same clothes, namely jeans, so viscerally familiar, so youthful and practical and relevant, end up being part of the story.

Note: The photographs below are all independently chosen, different than those in the book A Denim Story.

Taylor Foster photographed by

“Most days I’m in the studio just wearing a tee and jean shorts in the summer or a tee and jeans in the winter. I think personal style is a lot like a fingerprint, it’s different for every person. As we become more accepting of who we are, we know what works for our bodies and lifestyle and what doesn’t. I’ve always loved looking at old photos of stylish people, especially writers, musicians and artists. Indigenous cultures, ancient sculpture, recurring symbols throughout time and the concept of ancestral lineage are also my inspiration. And nature. Nobody does color better than Mother Nature.” Mary Jo Matsumoto, sculptor and painter

“When I’m not in a tunic or a caftan, you can find me in boyfriend jeans and tee. I only buy pieces I know I will really wear. I also find a simple wardrobe frees up my creative energy to channel into my passions like ocean + main.” Mary Price, founder and designer ocean + main


James Dean in the set of “Giant” (1956), George Stevens Productions
James Dean on the set of “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), Warner Brothers

“I do love classic pieces with some special detail or little twist, even if it’s hidden. I’m also a big fan of mixing masculine and feminine, like wearing a pair of slouchy TOMBOY jeans with lipstick and heels.” Kelly Urban, co-founder AMO Denim

“I can not live without a white shirt, jeans, and blazers. I am lucky because I never had to change my style too much for work. I don’t have a “professional style”. Of course, I adopt a different attitude depending on the circumstances but, as a writer, and particularly a travel writer, I can wear what I want. It’s a question of common sense and education, I suppose. In fact, my style matches the kind of people I work with, and we work together because we have the same attitude towards life (and that includes style).” Francisca Mattéoli, travel writer


Jane Birkin photographed by Mike Daines, Rex/Shutterstock | Katharine Hepburn on the set

“As I live in a country with six months of winter, am a mother of three young boys, as well as an illustrator that works in a messy, drippy way, I wear a lot of jeans with second hand tops and blouses and boots.” Stina Persson, illustrator

“My go-to daily outfit is a pair of AMO’s, a shrunken white tee, flats, and vintage jewelry. Style is an expression of your individuality and feeling comfortable in your own skin no matter what you are wearing.” Misty Zollars, co-founder AMO Denim

Margaux Hemingway photographed by Jean Claude Deutsch in France, 1980 | Getty Images

“Jeans, boring, I know. David would so much prefer it if I woke up each morning and dressed as Grace Kelly. Style is about being yourself and no one else.” India Hicks, designer, author, entrepreneur

Photographer Hilary Walsh in her Echo Park studio

* For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the book, I have linked to the publishing house. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore we will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.
More stories: On Craftsmanship and the Modern Woman, with Sue Stemp of St. Roche / Denim on Film: Little Fauss and Big Halsy / Interview with Fashion Designer and Humanitarian Treana Peake

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A Cinematic Gold Mine Made on Poverty Row: The Forgotten Films Noir

You take a deeper and deeper dive into noir’s murky stories. The more obscure, the more forgotten, the less known, the better. A cinephile is truly an explorer. You want to discover a film on your own or at least follow a tip to find a film and maybe keep it to yourself a little longer before you tell the world. Discovering a new film you have never heard about and nobody talks about is the greatest joy.

“Hell, we didn’t know what film noir was in those days. We were
just making movies. Cary Grant and all the big stars [at RKO]
got all the lights. We lit our sets with cigarette butts.”

Robert Mitchum

“We were just making movies.” One of the reasons I love noir films so much is that they have hardly ever been referred to in terms of “best” films. They were films for actors, not stars. The directors and cinematographers had to be inventive and innovative (it’s where many of them cut their teeth in and created their filmmaking style) because the budgets were limited and the time-frames were short. They presented a world somewhere between pulp fiction and existentialism where life had low values and an even lower running time, a world where love is replaced by obsession and fatal desires, but found a streak of poetry in the light coming out of a street pole in a dark alley or in the smoke of the omnipresent cigar, captured the interest with an odd angle, a glowing haunted face or a sharp line of dialogue, got under the viewer’s skin with deadly femmes fatales. They were made on Poverty Row, but they revelled in their cheapness, creating their own language, honing such a distinctive and definitive cinematic style “where one did not exist before”. It’s more than a genre, it’s called making movies.

In Arthur Lyons’ Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir, I have found an even bigger and new-found interest in forgotten noir films. There is no In a Lonely Place, Shadow of a Doubt, Gun Crazy, The Big Heat, Out of the Past, The Lady from Shanghai, The Big Sleep in the book’s filmography. These are some of my favourite noirs and they will always be. But then again, a cinephile never rests on what he/she already knows, has already seen. The noirs presented in its pages may not be among the best, but that is not the point. They are a world in themselves and those who love movies know what to look for even in a bad movie. With Arthur Lyons’ book is like I have been tipped off to some foreign and lost world only a handful of people, the truly passionate, know about.

Noir, this particular type of cynical American thrillers beginning roughly from around 1939 and continuing until about 1959 (two decades of cinematic gold mine), and which will return in one form or another in the 1970s, 1980s and the present day as neo-noir. Defining noir is not that simple and I like how the author goes beyond the usual categorization and beyond the essential qualities of noir as agreed on by historians “such as its dark, brooding visual style typified by deep-focus photography, chiaroscuro lighting, odd camera angles, the presence of crime in the plot, particularly murder, an urban setting, and the free-use of voice overs and narrative flashbacks”.

Lyons brings into discussion other important elements such as new post war reality (set against not only a nocturnal urban underworld, but also in a roadside diner – The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946 – or a mine in the middle of nowhere – Ace in the Hole, 1951), the advent and popularity of detective stories magazines, the invention of the paperback in 1939 (“easily held in hand, disposable, portable, meant to be read in a short time, for entertainment”, the perfect medium for whodunnits and mystery literature), and the flood of foreign directors in Hollywood before and during WW II, who brought with them the visual style of German expressionism. And, most importantly, he deems “the hard-bitten, cynical tone and their thematic content” (where the protagonist, whether cop, private eye or criminal, is a rootless and marginal man and has a flexible morale, is out of control and “knows he is one step from his final one”) as the only two factors that unite all noir films. “Story and only story defines film noir. Director tastes and techniques have nothing to do with the archetype noir tale,” Lyons further quotes Gerald Petievich (contemporary film noir screenwriter and novelist, To Live and Die in LA, Boiling Point).

Maybe that’s another reason why I enjoy so much film noir: experiencing a world of danger, vice and darkness, but only from a safe distance. We all have a dark side. “Even the private eye, the protagonist closest to being a noir hero, is not exempt from his fate.”
More stories: Film Noir Style: Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy / To Live and Die in LA: Renaissance Woman and Dance Hall Days in the Alienated City / Gloria Grahame in Film Noir

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Timeless Yves Saint Laurent: Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”

Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

There is this feeling you often get from Claude Sautet’s films, indicating that his protagonists are always among us. Sautet seeks out the remains of humanity in his characters, regardless of their past and crimes. It is an intimate and well-crafted world and what I love so much about his films is that they are about real life, about things we have lived, about things that can happen to us, about how people treat each other in a close relationship. They have heart, they are realistic. We identify easily with the characters, with how they feel, act, dress. Even with Lino Ventura’s gangster, Abel Davos, in Sautet’s extraordinary debut film, Classe tous risques (1960). Lino Ventura is a doomed man on the run, he has a sad, liven-in face. His clothes look lived-in, too. His trousers and jacket reflect his turmoil and disrupted life. Only when he goes off to settle matters with his former partners he puts on a trench coat. He has to look like he means business, because he does, and his children are his only drive. He can not escape his fate, but he must do right by his children. There is nothing more powerful than that.

Romy Schneider and Sami Frey in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

In César et Rosalie (1972), Romy Schneider is Rosalie, a beautiful young woman involved with a successful businessman, César (Yves Montand), but when she crosses paths with a former lover, David (Sami Frey), she doesn’t know who she loves anymore. But she loves life, she loves her big family and she may love both David and César. It is an interesting and observant story about the social and class changes of the 1970s, a bittersweet portrait of France in the ‘70s, about the struggle to leave behind the bourgeoisie ways and breaking away, about the way you change or don’t in life. Romy Schneider and Claude Sautet worked together on five films and she won the César award for her role in Une histoire simple (1978). She was a great character actor, easily taking on challenging parts. Her ability to change was unbelievable. She had a magnetic presence and beauty. And her talent shone even brighter than her beauty. It is her collective performances that have cemented her name, more than her beauty, more than the personal heartbreaks and tragedies that marked her life. It is the character of Rosalie however that came very close to her personality I believe, and, dressed in Yves Saint Laurent, Romy is the personification of the modern woman.

“I tried to escape from this straitjacket, from this little narrow world,” Schneider said when she moved to Paris. “I wanted to get away from this routine I had in Germany. Paris was a new world, a new life. I needed this freedom and I made the most of it.” She credited her transformation to three people: Alain Delon, Coco Chanel and Luchino Visconti (in Boccaccio ’70, dressed in Chanel, she gave one of her best performances). Chanel gave her the look. But it was in Yves Saint Laurent that Romy could find her innate sense of style and the liberty to roam free. Because Romy embodied this modern woman who embraced the times, life, the street wise. She was this free spirit, determined but fragile, flawed but real, mysterious but very human, this natural, untamed beauty that never seemed to find what she was looking for, but, who, dressed in simple, timeless clothes, looked a little closer to that kind of complete freedom that always seemed to escape her.

Michel Piccoli, who starred alongside Romy in a few films, including films directed by Claude Sautet, said in an interview for L’Express: “Romy is the most worried, fragile, uncertain actress I have ever met. Thanks to Claude and me, she had found a couple of men who managed to secure her, amuse her and give her self-confidence. I even went so far as to prank her so that she was more relaxed.” He went on recounting how “like a couple who loves each other after twenty years of living together, we manage to amaze each other. With Romy, it is an energy exchanged at every moment…”

Romy Schneider and Yves Montand in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Yves Saint Laurent created a new kind of luxury that had nothing to do with made-to-measure and everything to do with ready-to-wear. He liberated fashion, and, by that, he liberated women. “Yves Saint Laurent had a 50-50 deal with the street. Half of the time he is inspired by the street, and half of the time the street gets its style from Yves Saint Laurent,” said Diana Vreeland in 1983. He placed his belief in the street and gave the women in the whole world the passport to style. He believed only in style, that’s his greatest contribution to fashion.

Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Saint Laurent was also an astute film costume designer, the greatest cinephile among the fashion designers, is how François Truffaut named him. He “really understood what cinema costumes had to be like, and he designed them both for their movement and style.” In César et Rosalie, Romy looks good in her YSL clothes, but, what’s more important, the clothes fit the character. The sheer dress with long billowy sleeves, the feminine/masculine shirts and blouses, the trench coat, the pleated black dress again with long sleeves and deep neckline, the blue jeans, the pea coat, the roller-necks, the safari jacket, the scarf, le smoking (see last image to this article). Items that he worked to perfection collection after collection, convincing fashion and women that they don’t have to change their wardrobe season after season. He gave them style. “For me, the avant-garde is classicism,” it was his belief. In cinema, too, he left a particular mark, which testifies to his great ability to understand an era and the modern woman.

Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Not only does Rosalie know what the modern woman wants in terms of style, but she knows what she wants her modern man to wear, too. We see that from the way she gives César, who is older than her, advice about what he should wear. Not that his clothes aren’t put together – whether his grey flannel striped suit, or black suit, knitted tie and white shirt, or his weekend camel corduroy jacket, or his trench coat, his clothes are staples of men’s wardrobe. He just seems to abide by some certain rules.

On the other hand, with David, who is about the same age as her, Rosalie is not that particular, she is much more at ease, she’s comfortable with the way he dresses, because she sees a match in his own clothes, simple, classic yet modern; she feels they’re on the same level. His clothes are no less classic than César’s, but he wears them more effortlessly, he easily forgoes the tie, and he definitely prefers blue jeans to suits. With him, Rosalie seems much more comfortable in breaking conventions. She is even okay with swapping her elegant (regardless of how minimalist they are) dresses with a simple white t-shirt and jeans when she leaves César and goes away with David, both broke and having to work serving tables in a café. She isn’t afraid to embrace change. Nor was Yves Saint Laurent.

Sami Frey in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Yves Montand in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Editorial sources: The Films in My Life, by François Truffaut / Yves Saint Laurent, published by Foundation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint / Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, by Lisa Immordino Vreeland
More stories: Style in film: Romy Schneider in La piscine / The French Noir Anti-Hero and the Trench Coat / Catherine Deneuve in Yves Saint Laurent in Belle de jour

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