As an admitedly French admirer, it comes as no surprise one of my favourite movies is Gigi, a Classic Hollywood musical shot in reconstructed/enacted 1900’s Paris, starring one of my most adored actresses, Mme Leslie Caron, which had 27 years at the time, interpreting a 15 years old French naïve girl, tutored by her grandma and aunt to became a courtisan.
Now sugarcoat it as you want, but what in all the realms is a courtisan? A courtisan is an upper echelon prostitute. Maybe not a wh*re, let alone a sl*t, but still someone who sells her body for money or, as the retired courtisans who raised Gigi, now sympathetic grannies of the movie call it, ‘men’s protection’ . It is still a transaction where sexual favours are returned with material benefits though, so my point stands.
Gigi is sent every Tuesday to her grandma’s sister, aun Alicia, to be taught how to pick cigars, to walk with mellifluous grace and to distinguish phony and true jewelry. As almost a little tomboy, she is as bored as can be, which paralels to her match, Gaston, who claims every little magic aspect of Paris ‘Is a bore!’.
At some point, Gigi questions her unavaliability to have friends and get married, the answer of her aunt being she must avoid commoners because “We don’t marry at once, we marry at last”.
This is such a terrifying, if you start to reflect upon it. Not only Gigi is forbiden to socialize and pick friends, a boyfriend and maybe a spouse according to her own taste, she is also being expected to prostitute herself to whoever pays more, following the lead of the mistresses’ ‘family business’. Please, what else can this be except highly disturbing.
If this sounds painfully bizarre to me as a watcher, I can only imagine how it sounded to the character. When the tutoring deepens, Gaston decidedly acknowledges the interest he has been nurturing for Gigi since long and her grandma finally dots the ‘i’s of everything she is expected to perform, Gigi’s reaction is one of bewilderment, unfairness and hurt. Coming to understand how narrowed are her options in this hypocritical society, Gigi comes to understand there are not many options standing in front of her other than plain prostitution or labour slavery and states “Gaston, if I have to be unhappy, I’d rather be unhappy with you”. This heartbreaking line expresses the lack of free will Gigi is submitted to, being forced to put her own body into the market, her only privilege being the right to pick who is going to buy the merchandise.
Since this is a Cinderella retelling and Colette (a woman) being the original author of the tale, it all comes to a happy ending when Gaston understands he wants a wife, not a mistress, and the original Gigi, not the doctrined seductress she has been turned into. All is well again, except for a creepy old bachelor singing into a crowded Bois de Bologne park ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’ a slightly paedophilous theme about what would boys do without them.
Some may argue Gigi is a movie that hasn’t aged well, I on the other hand defend Gigi is a very ahead of its time movie. Why? Because it doted the ‘i’s about how women have always been expected to base their existences on the art of pleasing men. We are in 2019 and girls are being expected to excel in PE, care about their skin & hair, not to drink at parties to avoid date rape, get a serious boyfriend after college and not stay single for longer than one year. Is Gigi too modern for 2019?