Film Society Selection
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Tuesday 13th February 7.30 pm
Jacquot de Nantes
Director: Agnès Varda, France, 1991, 118 minutes
Cast: Philippe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud, Laurent Monnier
A heart-warming, heart-breaking evocation of French cineaste Jacques Demy's childhood and
his vocation for the cinema, by his wife and fellow-filmmaker
Agnès Varda. This charming, bitter-sweet tribute featuring clips from Demy's most renowned films.
Plus short film
Director: Mimi van Rinsum, UK, 2016, 104 seconds
Important life events you'll remember forever? Couples recall
those personal moments with amusingly contradictory results.
The opening credits to Jacquot de Nantes announce that this dramatisation of French auteur, Jacques Demys childhood and adolescence is une évocation écrite et réalisée par Agnès Varda. Or, in other words, a work of evocation, scripted and filmed by the subjects wife, herself, a formidably accomplished director, and reputed godmother of the French New Wave. Shot just before Demy died in 1990 during the films editing stages, this carefully observed tribute doesnt so much record and recount a particular period from an individuals life, as it suggestively summons it up. Taking her cue from Baudelaires poem Le Balcon from which she reads as the memoir commences, Varda uses the unfolding flow of things past to tease and draw out the essential spirit(s) of Demys world(s). Thus a central re-enacted narrative of Demys early years is punctuated with telling voiceovers and complementary cuts across to clips from his movies, as well as contemplative shots of the ailing cineaste, himself, often in repose.
One of the lines recited by Varda from Baudelaires sensuously nostalgic ode translates as I know how to call forth the moments of bliss. And for much of the plots running time we view a boyhood (played out by three different young male actors), which, while characterised by working-class privations, and the traumas of Occupation France during World War II, persistently percolates with joy. Living in cosy-verging-on-cramped quarters, adjoining the family service-station, Jacquot proves to be a buoyantly resourceful lad, ever engaging with all and everything around him, especially any form of popular entertainment. Responding to the impulses of his own creative imagination, hes also always in the day-by-day process of working out how he might, with whatever means, fabricate idiosyncratic versions of these performative originals. And the mundane, sometimes frustrating effort involved in Jacquots various projects, from setting up a Punch and Judy piece, to experimenting with crude cell-painting and stop-motion animation fill him (and us) with joy, the joy of learning a craft, developing a talent, and sharing it with others.
So, even though most of Jacquots youth is filmed in crisp and clear, doco-style black-and-white, at the staging of an operetta or a puppet-show or a restaurant rendition of the haunting ballad JAttendrai, the screen suddenly blossoms into momentary sprays of colour. Here is a time and space continuum where art iridescently informs and invigorates life. Where a son, heading bedwards, serenades his dad with a song bite about how love offers comfort to our wretched world. Where a mother rolling dough becomes Catherine Deneuve preparing food in Demys Peau dâne (1970). Where the announcement that 50 hostages will be shot as reprisal for the murder of a German Feldkommandant pre-empts a sequence from Demys Une Chambre en ville (1982), featuring a confrontation between flag-bearing workers and the military police.
What were the influences from Jacquots youth and what have become the cinematic accomplishments of Demys adulthood are initially sign-posted by a hand painted on a notice-board at his fathers workplace, which points forward right toward the future, and then back left toward the past. But soon we find that even this arbitrary temporal separation device starts pointing the wrong way, blurring the to-and-fro of standard chronologic, and perhaps emphasising how evocation and memory when exercised in the present will ultimately constitute an impressionistic mix that is timeless. Those breaks from black-and-white into colour around instances of art-in-performance also become fitfully, or maybe selectively, random, bleeding into otherwise more prosaic scenes to indicate a certain emotional significance. For example, there occur sudden colour-flashes in the midst of Jacquots communion celebration, or when the adult Demy recalls a military parachute landing, or at the appearance of virtually any movie poster or placard at the local cinema, so fervently frequented by our young protagonist and his friends.
The brief but pithy scenes around the neighbourhood movie-house cannily point to the youngsters final destiny and destination, even while his declared aspirations are much more artisanal than artistic. From his fondness for Disneys Snow White because Shes always singing. When she sweeps, when she washes up and when she makes cakes too, to his utterly confident teenage declaration of Marcel Carnes Les Enfants du paradis (1945) as un chef doeuvre, to his advice to mates that You must see La Belle et la Bête right away . Ill even see it again, we are witnessing the formation, and transformation, of a die-hard cinéphile. The practical filmmaker-within-the-romantic-film-buff can be heard as he breezily explains the day-for-night effect in Howard Hawks To Have and Have Not (1944), and his touching idealisation of women is intimated as he enthuses about the bombshell Rita Hayworth in Charles Vidors Gilda (1946).
the amateur craftsman, shooting primitive micro-narratives on an Ercsam
Camex in an upstairs attic, using a rollerskate for dolly-shots, becomes
Jacques, the professional film director, completes this always partial,
consciously fragmentary, portrait of a provincial sensibility driven
by a vision of how to turn the everyday into a cinema of sophisticated-yet-innocent
enchantment. His fathers insistence that his movie-mad son forego
the fantasy of filmmaking for an apprenticeship in engineering is horrendously
reinforced by a tech-school lecturer declaiming: To summarise.
Manual workers and intellectual workers are totally different from each
other. Copy that down! It is one of the strengths of Vardas
deeply considered and beautifully rendered profile of her husband that
such divisions as thinking and doing, living life and making art, feeling
close and watching from a distance, the ideal and the real, finally
merge in a magical act of genuine evocation.
Peter H Kemp