Director Agnes Varda's evocative tribute to her late director husband Jacques Demy, JACQUOT (Demy's mother's childhood nickname for him), is meant to be both a celebration and gentle examination of Demy's creative evolution from boyhood to manhood. Unfortunately, most of the essence of the
grown man, as remote as someone dreamt up by von Sternberg, gets left between the lines (although the viewer gets interview snippets, done in a quick and perfunctory manner).
Because of Varda's episodic arrangement of her material, JACQUOT--at 119 minutes, a lengthy compilation--lacks a fluid nature. Varda works too hard to integrate clips from Demy's films into her own dramatized black-and-white footage of his childhood. Sometimes the pasting looks quite seamless,
but the choice of clips makes Demy look like anything but a directorial heavyweight. We thirst for more when Jeanne Moreau, in Dietrich drag with her blistered version of Monroe's coiffures, erupts on screen playing a croupier in LOLA (1961), but there's not much else here to grab the viewer. The
reliance on Demy's association with the impenetrably wooden Catherine Deneuve (in THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964), THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967), DONKEY SKIN (1970), and A SLIGHTLY PREGNANT MAN (1973)), playing fairytale heroines or twirling in circles, mouthing dubbed songs, do not stand
up as an hommage to Demy the artist, even if they do refer back to childhood stories or films that made an impression during his formative years.
When Varda glides from Demy's color clips into her own skipping, dashing footage, she adds color to the latter; it's well executed but the documentary effect becomes compromised and blunted. Varda might have leaned more heavily upon the Nazi occupation; as it is, it looks more like an
inconvenience than the heinous act it was. But this section results in one great moment: taken to the country for shelter, Jacquot and his younger brother are led to feed rabbits as their parents depart. The scene illustrates heartrendingly parental attempts to shield children from emotional pain.
But parents, having grown up, have forgotten the all-knowing instinct of childhood. The circumstance--feeding rabbits, or whatever--serves to frame the pain, to etch it into the memory of the gifted child.
Varda gets strong performances from all of her Jacquots (three portray Demy at varying ages): Phillipe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud, and Laurent Mounier. The French know how to do period looks--they don't compromise them by blending them with contemporary styles--and the touchingly homely, humble
little face of Jacquot's peasant Aunt is use to exalted effect, especially when the face opens up into the sweet singing voice of a sparrow.
The collaboration between Varda and Demy to re-create his early creative awakening is invigorating, but when Varda's footage is followed by Demy's commentary, JACQUOT begins to look rather sly. Demy checks in with his great black brows sweeping up to the bridge of his hanging nose, punctuated by
haunted, dark, slightly walled eyes that convey gentility, shyness, and some unnamed fear. Varda captures him talking about nothing very much: going to Paris, making films with a woman, marrying her, having a son, and painting (Demy died in 1990). Demy's life is presented as one without
conflict--only his initial career wrangle with his father presented any difficulty--and JACQUOT points out that Demy's great talent was patience: would that it is the viewers' when the film finally fails to penetrate the man. JACQUOT's last moments have the elusive Demy again sitting in the sand.
A small look of disappointment--or is it disappointment?--crosses his face. His wife's ardent camera crawls yet closer, hungry for a revelatory moment, seeking an image that justifies everything she has appropriated, if not in actuality at least in her mind. And alas, Jacquot, who has now become
Jacques, drops a curtain--and looks away. (Sexual situations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: PG
- Review: Director Agnes Varda's evocative tribute to her late director husband Jacques Demy, JACQUOT (Demy's mother's childhood nickname for him), is meant to be both a celebration and gentle examination of Demy's creative evolution from boyhood to manhood. Unfortu… (more)