Title: Jacquot de Nantes
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Agnès Varda
Music: Joanna Bruzdowicz
Brigitte De Villepoix
My second Varda’s entry (after CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 1962) 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) and THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964) – 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.