Gigi (1958) is a romantic comedy musical adapted from the French novella, written by Colette. I have recently read it and was intrigued when I found that this film had been made. The story is set in turn of the century Paris ( 1900), where society seems to revolve round men taking mistresses and women aspiring to become them. Leslie Caron plays the young and carefree ‘Gigi’, who lives with her Grandmother ‘ Madame Alvarez’ and her mother , an opera singer , who we often hear practising her singing but never actually see.
Louis Jordan is the rich and charming ‘Gaston’, a family friend who becoming bored of the playboy lifestyle, finds himself spending more time drinking camomile tea with Madame Alvarez and playing cards with the refreshingly naive yet mischievous Gigi.
Every week Gigi visits her Great Aunt Alicia ( Madame A’s sister) for lessons in etiquette and charm ( something she is not very good at! ). Her elder relatives believe she will eventually need these attributes if she is to become a celebrated mistress like her Aunt. Meanwhile Gaston has discovered his own mistress ‘Leanne’ has been unfaithful , and promises to take Gigi and her Grandmother to the coast after Gigi wins a wager at cards. The three enjoy a weekend by the sea where they bump into Gastons uncle ( Maurice Chevalier) who quite often pops up in the film ( somewhat annoyingly ) to give Gaston advice on how to be the perfect playboy.
When Aunt Alicia finds out about the seaside trip she is furious and points out to her sister that Gaston surely has feelings for Gigi and that her lessons and wardrobe need to be stepped up at once. Unaware of what’s going on, but delighted at the prospect of some new grown up gowns Gigi spends more time learning how to become a lady. Comparisons to My Fair Lady here, even down to the Cecil Beaton designs.
Visiting Madame Alvarez once again, Gaston is amazed at the transformation in Gigi who suddenly stands before him as a sophisticated young woman. Yet the change has disturbed him and he storms out , realising as he stomps the streets of Paris, that he has fallen in love. Returning to the apartment he asks that Gigi become his mistress and promises her a life of luxury and kindness. Initially Gigi rejects Gaston ( though she now knows she is in love with him too, she has spent time reading about all his mistresses , along with the rest of Paris), but then decides that she would rather be miserable with him than without him and accompanies him on their first date as a couple.
Gigi puts all her Grandmothers lessons into practice on their date at Maxims which instead of pleasing Gaston, only makes him uncomfortable. Happily it then dawns on him that actually he doesn’t want Gigi to be his mistress after all. He wants her to be his wife. Hurrah. 🙂 The film ends with the happily married couple strolling in the park ~ looking very much in love.
I really enjoyed the book and the movie especially the fact that despite all the meddling our heroine was able to marry for love….and not become just a mistress with a pouch full of expensive jewels from long gone lovers.
Have you read any stories by Colette?