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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'll start right off by saying that if you haven't seen any of the
major films from the subject of this terrific bio-docudrama, Jacques
(Jacquot) Demy, then you probably won't get much out of it and in fact
I'd suggest you'd be much better off watching "Les Parpluies de
Cherbourg" instead. That 1964 musical is probably Demy's most famous
film, and it's one that is featured in several clips (along with every
one of the late director's features if I'm not mistaken) in this loving
recreation of the director's early years, taken from his memoirs and
directed by his equally talented director wife as he was dying of AIDS.
The film shifts fluidly from black and white to color - often a remarkable reproduction of 60s Technicolor, perhaps a tribute more to young Jacquot's early visions than to his 30s and 40s surroundings - and from the present-day (1990) dying man conversing about his past to recreations of those formative years, falling in love with movies in "Snow White" (1937, when Demy was 6) through leaving for film school in Paris after years of trying to convince his stubborn working class father that film was a worthy profession at the end of the 1940s.
World War II is of course a central motif in any film about people living in France during that era, but interestingly enough the film takes the unsentimental childish view that (presumably) was reality for the director at the time - it was for him, living in a provincial town in the west of the country and being lucky enough to come through it with family intact, an inconvenience or an adventure most of the time - here he discovers a love of the country, but there he discovers an abhorrence of violence, which ends up reflecting in some of the sunniest and most fairy-tale-like films in French cinema. No, for the young Jacques Demy the real struggle was with his fair but very firm male parent, never indulgent like his mother and determined that his eldest son should learn a real trade as a mechanic - much of Parpluies certainly derives from those teen-age years of tech school and working on cars.
My favorite parts of the film are probably those devoted to Demy's nascent homegrown film career - unlike many of his better-known peers like Godard and Chabrol, Demy was never a critic and started out making films not long after he began to be obsessed with watching them, on his own at first with hand-cranked and then cheap electric 9.5 mm cameras. Several reconstructions of his early work with human actors and with animation provide both amusement and a real sense that here is a person who found his calling early, and never gave up despite the easier paths open to him. It would be an excellent film for all budding filmmakers to watch, and it's another example of Varda's terrific understanding of the documentary and essay forms, not quite in either category, not quite fiction, but all love and affection.
This film, Agnes Varda's loving tribute to both Jacques Demy and to the
playful joy of cinema, is a great idea executed with a beguiling sincerity
and containing some wonderful moments that make up for it's flaws and that
make the film very worth seeing.
Concentrating on Demy's childhood in working class France of the 1940's, the film often doesn't quite go far enough into absorbing us into it's world. It can be sketchy at times. Just about all of the characters other than the young Demy are blurry and weak. The details of the time and place are often sparse in a way that distances. When World War II begins, we would hardly know it if not for a few minor mentions of it as well as a brief, unconvincing moment involving a German soldier wandering his way into the scene of a family gathering. We don't quite get a vivid enough impression of where Demy comes from.
However, all of this doesn't matter during the wonderfully funny, charming scenes of the young Jacques making his first films. The scenes of his working on a stop-motion animated film set in a cardboard city he builds in his basement are particularly witty and fun to watch.
The film also contains some most valuable footage of Demy himself reflecting on the past and, to sometimes charming effect, the film intersperses several clips from his films (The Pied Piper, Lola, Umbrellas of Cherbourg) throughout, highlighting the influence of childhood memories on his later work.
Jacquot is recommended. It makes you want to see again (or see for the first time) the films of Jacques Demy and most anyone who has had their life taken over by cinema will be able to pick out the most innocent, inspiring parts of themselves out of the film's better moments.
In my ongoing project to know Varda I figured few films would be as
personally poignant as this one, a dear goodbye to her filmmaker
husband Demy, then in his last days. It would be about his childhood in
occupied France, before the two met, but I was keen to see what images
she would furnish around this boy who would grow up to be the man she
loved and was going to be parted from now forever very soon.
But of course it has to count for something, that faced with the opportunity to make one last film, Demy chose one simply on his childhood in place of a more encompassing reflection, that he leaves out all that life that a man would reflect back upon, and husband, father, struggling filmmaker. It must have been not always a happy marriage, as also different films by both suggest, but that's every marriage.
Moreover it says this about him, that as the last glimpse of himself that he leaves behind is that of a boy tinkering with moving illusions in an attic. It shows the Demy who liked nothing better than to tinker with color and artifice in his later work, fans will clearly see how the fascination started, this is definitely one for them. How it's the surrounding world, having to hide the weapons of French soldiers before German tanks rolled in, that inspires invention, staging, imagination. We see that it's his father's garage where Cherbourg takes place in after all.
But if we keep probing honestly, we will also come to the realization that if we didn't know from elsewhere that Demy was in his last days, we wouldn't really know it from the film. The facts of mortality are left out, this is a story of beginnings. So when it ends with the somewhat flippant mention that he would go on to be married, have kids, and that is that, it might also be a way of saying that some things are left unsaid. I still find that what he chooses to recall is a simple nostalgia and what he doesn't has even more value, that being consciousness of a whole life.
Varda films from a distance, this is not her story, she's here to type it all down. But she does say her own goodbye in the most heartfelt way as the camera parts from him on a shore, has to. She would make another film on Demy after he was gone, I'm setting my eyes on that.
My second Varda's entry (after CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 1962, 7/10) is her
cinematic eulogy to her late husband, the filmmaker Jacques Demy
(1931-1990) after 28 years of marriage, who passed away one year before
the film's release, recounts Demy's life from childhood to adolescence
in Nantes, re-enacts mostly sketchy episodes of that time from Demy's
memoir, particularly during the Occupied France in WWII and Jacquot
(Jacques' nickname) 's ever-growing passion towards cinema.
Named after his paternal grandfather, it is unexpectedly poignant when a young Jacques (played by Maron, Joubeau and Monnier in different ages) is bringing to visit his grandpa's grave and see his own name on the tombstone, as if the reincarnation just completes another circle. Demy's father Raymond (Dublet) is a mechanic and his mother Marilou (De Villepoix) is a coiffeuse, they own a garage and he has a younger brother Yvon (Delaroche, Averty in different ages). Most of the narrative is conveyed with unaffected naturalism by its cast under a blanched monochrome, with whimsical coloured-shots materialise irregularly and presumably function as indicators which influence Demy's life afterwards, like Theatre Guignol.
Varda's essayist construal of the biographical texts largely restores Jacquot's early years in a lifelike form, as a documentary made in 1930-40s, details mostly convivial vignettes with references in Demy's own distinguished oeuvre - in my case I only watched DONKEY SKIN (1970, 4/10) and THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964, 7/10) - introduced and bookended by opposite pointing fingers respectively, and underlined with a miscellany of Demy's favourite classical music.
From a carefree child who enjoys marionette show, to a bit older in the Occupation period, becomes repulsive towards the war, then in the latter half, the film's focus shifts to the zealousness of cinema, not only a frequent spectator, the young Jacquot self-studies rudimentary knowledge of cinematography, makes his own live-action and animation shorts with a hand-hold camera bartered from an antique shop, and plays them at home on an ersatz screen set in the closet. Destiny has been kind to him, a chief struggle is his working-class father's initial disagreement of Demy's decision to throw himself into the movie business, but when he realises his son does have the talent, he is sensible enough to let him go to Paris, where the film eventually draws to a close.
JACQUOT DE NANTES is Varda's personal but endearing portrayal of her beloved husband, a farewell visual memoir of him, there are brief documentaries of an ailing Demy talking feebly in his last days, and near-end, the macro close-ups of his wrinkles, grey stubble and finally zoom in on his nebulous eyes, like a valedictory gaze during the final stage of a sacred catharsis to let him go, the film itself stands as a testimony of their ever-lasting love, poetically and romantically, it evokes great intimacy towards those we love and cherishes the time when we are together.
French film "Jacquot De Nantes" is Agnès Varda's personal cinematographic tribute to her husband late director Jacques Demy who has made some of the most marvelous musical films in the history of French cinema. No true cinéphile can claim to truly know French cinema unless he/she has seen Jacques Demy's films namely "Les Parapluies De Cherbourg", "Les Demoiselles De Rochefort", "La Baie Des Anges" etc. This film explores the role of childhood in a film director's life. Agnès Varda shows how an ordinary boy without any connection to the world of cinema from a humble milieu with a mechanic father and a hairdresser mother achieves greater heights to become a reputed film director. In many ways, the incidents from Jacques Demy's childhood are similar to those of other leading directors of French cinema who also had experienced troubled childhood experiences namely François Truffaut and Maurice Pialat. Louis Malle is the only exception to this rule as he belonged to one of the most wealthiest families in France. The film is constructed in such a manner that one finds the echo of the events experienced by Jacques Demy in his own films. This effect is carried out through scenes wherein an arrow separates childhood memory scenes from actual scenes which were all an integral part of Jacques Demy's own films. The very fact that Jacques Demy makes his appearance at regular intervals in this film helps us to place scenes from his films in their proper perspective. Jacquot De Nantes is true to life as it depicts minor as well as major incidents from Jacques Demy's life without being maudlin. For cinéphiles the sheer joy of Jacques Demy going crazy about classics of French cinema namely "Les Enfants Du Paradis" is a veritable visual treat. Lastly, had it not been for Agnès Varda and her brilliant film "Jacquot De Nantes" not many cinéphiles would have been able to learn that it was French director Christian Jacque who gave young Jacques Demy a chance to enter the world of cinema when he discovered the young boy's talent during one of his visits to Nantes-a city where Jacques Demy was born.
Director Agnés Varda gives a loving picture of her
husband Jacques Demy's teens in rural Nantes. Little Jacques (or Jacquot)
grows up obsessed with his interest in movies and the idea of making his
As just a little boy he makes his own animated stories. Now and then his childhood adventures turns into a movie, and instead we see small scenes from his later classic movies; Lola, The Young Girls Of Rochefort and others. For example at one scene at his fathers garage when a customers picks up his car : suddenly we see a scene with a garage from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", with the same dialogue.
Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda made the movie together. He provided with stories from his childhood, and she wrote the manuscript. It is a very beautiful little film about childhood and about a little kid obsessed with his movies.
After all,they were married for 33 years ,their career began at roughly the same time,with the rise of the Nouvelle Vague ;Among the -sometimes outrageously overrated - directors of that school,Varda and Demy were among the less pretentious and their best works (mainly Demy) have stood the test of time quite well.
One cannot like Demy and not watch this documentary:it was made with love,taste and skill.Combining Demy's childhood,his hometown memories - his wildest dreams were to make shows-with the stories he transferred to the screen,Varda explores the genesis of them all,and her work is absorbing.Nantes ,"Lola" 's town ,should be remembered as Jacques Demy's hometown .Hence the title of the documentary.
Agnes Varda's biographical sketch of Jacques Demy's childhood and how it shaped him into a filmmaker. I use the word "sketch" because the film doesn't really go in-depth to any degree and it feels like a pretty superficial treatment. However, there's a lot of warmth and charm to it, and the anecdotes being revealed make for compelling material. If the sort of nostalgia on display isn't terribly original, at least there is some originality in the structure, tying clips from Demy's work to specific moments to his youth. The brief scenes of the real Demy (presumably not long before his death) help keeps things fresh as well. While this didn't knock my socks off, it was a very pleasant and endearing movie.
I think that director such as Jacques Demy, deserves much better treatment than the one he got in this poor cinema biography by Agnes Varda. This is done in low tradition of French TV dramas and I couldn´t find a single inspirational and emotional moment in this trivial film. Varda directed "Jacquot de Nantes" in a manner which is closer to the documentary feature but still not quite. So, what we got here is steady camera work which doesn´t allow us to see any emotions on screen and therefor care for the characters, and on the other hand it doesn´t go any deeper from the surface in documentary tradition. The ending is completely without any sense and it just goes on with the rest of the piece. Simply boring and very forgettable. One might also expect much more from the director of such classics as "Kung-Fu Master" and "Vagabond".
It will probably help if you did a little reading up on what the movie
was about before you watched it. For a person who likes to start a
movie cold, the film confused me in the beginning. Then in due course
of time I understood the rhythm but was still confused with the
alteration of colour and B&W shots of essentially the same scene.
So the movie gets off to a bad start by assuming that audience members are already in the know. It was interesting to see how various aspects of Demy's film making were influenced by his childhood experiences. However as in the case of most artists and intellectuals, this is to be expected.
Other than providing an insight, the interspersing of Demy's movie clips in between also provided a sense of familiarity and comedy.
Having been made by the wife of the main protagonist, the film felt fairly self-indulgent. It was like Shahjehan constructing the Taj Mahal - a beautiful construction for personal satisfaction for the others to see and admire.
The story is fairly simple, straight forward and predictable but its execution is charming. I for one came off this film highly inspired and more determined to follow my dreams.
4 stars for the optimism, feelgoodness and acting.
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