Cast: Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold
Oscar Wins: Best Picture, Best Director (Vincente Minnelli), Best Adapted Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner), Best Cinematography, Color (Joseph Ruttenberg), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (William A. Horning, E. Preston Ames, Henry Grace, F. Keogh Gleason), Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton), Best Film Editing (Adrienne Fazan), Best Original Song (“Gigi” – Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner), Best Score (Andre Previn)
SUMMARY: The film opens with a monologue by Honore Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier), who explains that (at the turn of the 20th century) in Paris, many people get married, but some do not (this is a veiled explanation that many men take mistresses). One of the men who is not married is Lachaille’s nephew, Gaston (Louis Jourdan), a wealthy young man who is bored with his privileged, carefree life. Gaston’s one pleasure is visiting his friend Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold) and her granddaughter, Gigi (Leslie Caron). Gigi sees Gaston as an older brother, and both enjoy teasing the other. Gigi is about to be sent to her aunt, who will train her in the ways of a courtesan (basically, a high-end mistress). When Gaston discovers that his current mistress is cheating on him, he decides to go on a seaside vacation, and Gigi is able to convince him to take her and Mamita (Gaston’s name for Madame Alvarez) along for the trip. After they return, Gigi’s aunt demands that Gigi’s lessons become more intense, in the hopes that Gaston will become attracted to Gigi. A fight erupts after Gaston insults Gigi; when he tries to make it up by taking her out for tea, Mamita refuses out of concern for Gig’s reputation. Gaston, angry again, leaves the apartment.
While wandering around, Gaston realizes that he has fallen in love with Gigi, and goes back to the apartment. There, he offers to take Gigi as his mistress. Much to his surprise, Gigi refuses, saying that she wants more out of life than being passed around. However, she later decides that she wants to be with Gaston, even if it cannot be on her terms. Gaston, who is shocked at Gigi’s interpretation of his intent for her, nevertheless takes her to dinner after she changes her mind. At the restaurant, Gaston realizes that Gigi’s has completely changed her behavior to befit that of a courtesan (which upsets him), and that his love for her makes keeping her as his mistress impossible. He abruptly takes Gigi home, leaving without an explanation. Later that night, he returns to Mamita’s apartment and asks to marry Gigi. In the final scene, Honore Lachaille delivers another monologue, pointing out the (now happily married) Gaston and Gigi.
MY TAKE: I was really surprised when I watched this movie – I couldn’t believe that a movie with this subject matter could be so popular in 1958. Married couples were shown sleeping in separate beds through the sixties, so the fact that this film was so obviously about unmarried sex seems like it should have been really controversial. I didn’t especially love or hate the movie: nothing really sticks in my memory after watching it (other than the disbelief at the subject). I did like that Gigi refuses to be treated like a piece of meat, but then she goes and changes her mind. That was hard for me to respect. I’m sure that in the time period of the film, being a courtesan was a pretty attractive way of life, but it’s hard for me, so far removed from that time, to understand that. Of course, Gaston fixes the whole problem by coming to his senses and being a gentleman about things, so it all ends well.