Model Shop is a 1969 American film by French writer-director Jacques Demy starring Gary Lockwood, Alexandra Hay and Anouk Aimée and featuring a guest appearance by Spirit who also recorded the soundtrack. Demy made Model Shop, which was his first English-language film, following the international success of his film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Aimée reprises the title role from Demy's 1960 French-language film Lola.
In Los Angeles in 1969, twenty-six-year old architect George Matthews (Gary Lockwood) is floundering. Unemployed and in debt, the would-be actress Gloria (Alexandra Hay) he lives with is tired of him and his car is due to be repossessed.
Going round friends to scrounge $100 to stave off the finance company, he sees a beautiful foreign woman (Anouk Aimée) in a white convertible and follows her to a mansion in the hills. Ringing up his parents, he learns that his draft notice has arrived and he must report for Army duty next week. For the first time, he comes face-to-face with his own mortality.
In the street he sees the beautiful woman again and follows her. She enters a model shop, a tawdry studio where customers can take erotic photographs, and he books a session with her. But she is uninterested in his attentions. Going home, he finds Gloria has landed a job with a new admirer, who is taking her out for the evening. Obsessed with the enigmatic foreigner, he returns to the model shop and books another session with her. She tells him she is French, named Cécile but working as Lola, and recounts some of her problems. Abandoned by her husband Michel for a female gambler named Jackie Demaistre, she is trying to make enough money to return to France and her child.
In a tender night of drinking and lovemaking at Lola's apartment, George and Lola talk of their failed romances, their hopes, their dashed dreams, philosophy, and mortality. Through their conversation, they each find the willpower to continue living and George gives her the money he borrowed to save his car. The next morning, when George goes home, he finds Gloria packing to leave. Ringing up Lola's apartment, her roommate tells him she now had enough cash for a plane ticket and had flown out early that morning. As they talk, a tow truck outside is removing his car. He says to the girl: "I just wanted to tell her that I love her. I wanted her to know that I was going to begin again. It sounds stupid, I know. But a person can always try."
Jacques Demy later told the Los Angeles Times:
I came here for a vacation, not to make a movie. But I fell in love with LA. I just had to make a film. It's so marvellous. When I left Paris it was dead. Now I've missed the revolution and everything. But I had been so depressed, so discouraged. I said I must go someplace where something's happening. I don't want to be pretentious but I want The Model Shop to be Los Angeles, 1968 - like Fellini's Europa '51. Lola is a very small part. She ties the story together. Everything is like a puzzle: it fits together. I want to forget Cherbourg, Rochefort. I've gone as far as I can with that. I needed another language, new problems. This won't be a Hollywood movie. I told them I like to shoot on location, use real people whenever possible. The sound stage, big stars, big budget - I wouldn't enjoy that. I learned the city by driving - from one end of Sunset to the other, down Western all the way to Long Beach. LA has the perfect proportions for film. It fits the frame perfectly.
Gary Lockwood was cast on the basis of his performance in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Demy says Lockwood "had nothing to do in Space Odyssey but he knew how to move. He's very natural, very simple."
Alexandra Hay was cast after Demy saw her in The Beard. She was also under contract to Columbia, who were financing the film. "Alexandra is a free bird," said Demy. "In a certain way she is like Jeanne Moreau... She has the samestrong will. She will succeed because she wants to act. I think maybe Bette Davis was that way too."
Adrien Joyce did some work on the script.
Filming started in June 1968. Anouk Aimee did not arrive until four weeks into filming, well after she was supposed to. Rumours said that this was due to her affair with Omar Sharif (Aimee was married at the time). Eventually Columbia Pictures sent her an ultimatum. Eventually Aimee arrived and filming resumed.
"I did Jacques first film so it has to be that I do his first American film," said Aimee.
The film performed poorly at the box office. Demy's wife Agnes Varda later said Demy "was less than happy with what Columbia did with Model Shop. They killed it! I don't say it was the greatest picture but opening it in double features in the suburbs! Columbia really let him do what he wanted but he didn't get the point early enough: if you make a cheap movie they don't think anything of it."
Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum views Model Shop as one of director Jacques Demy's most critically underrated and neglected films, writing that "the play between actuality and artifice is the most complex and unconventional" in the film.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club is also a major proponent of Model Shop, writing that Demy's film is "obsessively escapist" and that "every film [Demy] made, whether it had singing in it or not, was essentially a musical; he could make the sad streets of Nantes into an MGM back lot.". He later includes it in his "Cine-Autobiography", a list of unranked films which "opened doors or made [him] turn a corner.".
Charlotte Garson notes how the films of Demy, as in the works of Balzac and Proust, create a universe in which not only themes but characters reappear. A few of the recurring motifs in Model Shop are chance making or marring relationships, lovers parted by war, women surviving by near-prostitution and the USA as a world of sunshine where people drive open-top cars. Cécile is not only a character from Lola, which also featured her husband Michel, her lover Frankie and her child, but was mentioned in Les Demoiselles de Rochefort as well. Another mention is of the gambler Jackie from La Baie des Anges.
Model Shop is included on Sight and Sound 's list of 75 most neglected films. Films on the list were selected by 75 international critics as "unduly obscure and worthy of greater eminence”.
When promoting Model Shop Demy said he wanted to make an all-singing musical in America about students called The Interview. It was never made.
A brief portion of the film is seen at the beginning of the season seven episode of Mad Men, "Field Trip," when the character Don Draper is shown watching it in a theater. The plot of the episode mirrors that of the film; Don is in a failing marriage with his actress wife Megan.