Lili is a lonely, parentless teenager living in the tender but seemingly unmerciful age when she's caught between childhood and womanhood. When she arrives in Paris from a boarding school, a note from her dying father tells her to go stay with a baker friend who will take her in and give her work, but the baker dies before she arrives, leaving her with no place to go, no money to get there, and no one to turn to for help.
By a stroke of luck, she happens to meet a magician (Marc, played by Jean-Pierre Aumont) from a traveling show and follows him back to the midway. The magician takes pity on her and talks the boss of the show into taking her on.
The young, naive girl takes an inappropriate fancy to her new savior, who turns out to have issues of his own - such as being married and no one knew it. His snotty wife (Rosalie, played by Zsa Zsa Gabor) realizes that the poor girl likes her husband and looks down her nose at her for it, showing obvious anger for the fact that her husband seems to attract women like a magnet attracts iron.
Meanwhile, the boss, a puppeteer, seems to take a fancy to Lili, but he is unable to express himself as a typical male would, so he uses his puppets to reach out to her. Cold and uncaring, the man is intimidating and ill mannered toward the girl but through his puppets he is warm and compassionate.
When the boss sees how well she interacts with the puppets, he revises his show to include her, but when she discovers the magician she took a fancy to is married, she suddenly is faced with having to grow up and face responsibility, so she decides to leave the show, not realizing that the boss has feelings for her.
As he uses the puppets to try to keep her from leaving, it is then that she comes face to face with her first clue - and it throws her for a loop.
Does the girl, who is living in a fantasy world of her own, have the capacity to suddenly enter into adulthood and carry on a loving relationship with a man who confuses her?
I really liked this story line - all the underlying messages I picked up about how different people travel down their life's paths, and how their own circumstances seem to mold them into the people they've become. I think Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer were simply magical together , and Kurt Kasnar's supporting role as the show's co-partner and co-puppeteer, Jacquot, was outstandingly nurturing and compassionate.
I couldn't help but notice that Mel's role as Paul, the show's owner and head puppeteer, was so "male" - harsh, calculated, cold, yet protective and business oriented. He was a stone-wall of sorts.
Jacquot, on the other hand, was soft and compassionate; nurturing and wise.
Psychologically speaking, these two roles were definitely the father and mother figures that Lili needed in her life, and that met the need that enabled her to graduate from childhood to womanhood.
This creatively heart rendering, multi faceted tale is available on DVD through wbshop.com. With the holidays coming up, it might make a great stocking stuffer for a teen girl.