Filmed in 1958, “Gigi” stars Leslie Caron as Gigi, a naive and impetuous girl being raised by her grandmother and great aunt Alicia, two women frequently astonished by the girl’s wild behavior. Family friend and ludicrously wealthy magnate Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan), however, finds Gigi charming, and often spoils her with caramels and other presents.
But Aunt Alicia has far more in mind for Gigi than caramels. She is training Gigi to be a courtesan, the perfect female companion…to the wealthiest man Alicia can find. And Gaston just happens to fit the bill. But will Gigi’s “odd” beliefs about love—and Gaston’s uncle’s encouraging him to play the rake—mean an unhappy ending?
A great story overall
Last week I saw that “Gigi” was available through Netflix (possibly the best idea ever, despite their recent faux pas), and added it to my list. It’s got some good music (several songs are well-known even today) and has a happy (if somewhat rushed) ending; but with that said, it’s a weird little musical.
Although the concept of courtesans or companions is an extremely old one, the film makes it seem like something that wasn’t openly discussed, either in 1900 (when the film is set) or 1958 (when it was filmed). Most of the characters are pretty vague about what’s going on, leading to unnecessary confusion at several points: Does Gigi herself know what’s happening? Why is everyone suddenly so upset that Gaston wants to take Gigi out to tea? Why is Gaston embarrassed to talk about the facts of the “arrangement”? These questions are eventually answered, but it took some additional pondering that I don’t think was necessary. Actual courtesans would likely have no qualms discussing the facts of their situation, especially with those they were training, or with whom they were making arrangements.
It eventually occurred to me that “Gigi” was filmed during a period of strict rules and censorship in American media, and being too open in the film would have meant it wouldn’t have been approved for release. Which is still lame, but at least there’s a reason behind the vagueness.
Aside from that gripe, I really enjoyed the film. The actors were great, the singing was good, the sets fabulous, and look at these costumes:
I want all of these dresses. And a hot guy in a perfectly-cut tux, too.
One of the main reasons I love musicals (especially the classics) is that they have happy endings: despite the obstacles, love conquers all. But while Gaston and Gigi might have walked off hand-in-hand into the shining sunset, the film did make me consider the provider-companion relationship.
It’s a topic covered in a more serious manner in books like Memoirs of a Geisha and the recently published The Mistress Contract.
How common were these relationships in the past? Are they still common now? What kind of a person enters into such an arrangement? Is it any better than a “love match” relationship and/or marriage? I think this is something I’ll be thinking about in more detail.
Have you seen “Gigi”? What did you think? Is a provider-companion relationship a good or bad idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts.