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17.1.06

L'univers de Jacques Demy

Available from Amazon:
cover
Agnès Varda, L'univers de Jacques Demy (The World of Jacques Demy, 1995)
Agnès Varda, Jacquot de Nantes

Agnès Varda, Jacquot de Nantes (1991)
When I went to see Agnès Varda introduce her film Jacquot de Nantes, she mentioned another film she made, more of a documentary about the career of her husband, Jacques Demy, a film director I admire intensely. That film, L'univers de Jacques Demy, came recently from Netflix, and it is not quite as powerful or interesting as Jacquot de Nantes, but since that movie is not available in the United States (you can buy it used on VHS, which I just may try to do), this one is all the more important to see, because it is.

This film is less about Demy the person, Demy the husband, Demy's childhood, and more about his adult career as a filmmaker. Principally, it made me realize how many of Demy's movies I have not seen, and I felt like I had seen many of them. The film begins and ends with remembrances from everyday people who admired Demy's movies, including an impassioned letter from an admirer who has written a letter to Demy that she never sent. In traditional documentary style, there are interviews with Varda and with the couple's children, Rosalie and Mathieu, and with many of the people who worked with Demy in the films, including great moments with his favored composer, Michel Legrand. Side by side with the footage shot for the documentary are clips from Demy's movies and wonderful stills and footage shot on set. I now have a list of Jacques Demy DVDs I need to buy on my trip to France this spring, things that are just not available here.

Also on Ionarts:

Peau d'âne (December 27, 2005)

Michel Legrand Interview (August 26, 2005)

La Deneuve in Cannes (May 13, 2005)

Le Jazz in Saint-Germain (May 8, 2005)

Agnès Varda, Jacquot de Nantes (February 19, 2005)
The strangest story from the movie, an episode I had no idea about before I watched this DVD, is worth relating here. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1965) did so well when it was released, winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes, that it was even noticed in Hollywood. Demy came to Los Angeles at that time because the movie was nominated for a couple Oscars (Original Screenplay and Musical Score), which it didn't win. He and Varda lived le rêve américain for two years, when he had a contract to make an American movie, Model Shop, a sort of sequel to Lola (1961).

Demy believed in casting unknown actors when he believed in them and thought them right for the role. He was friendly with a young, unknown American actor at this time and wanted to cast him in the role that the studio forced him to give to Gary Lockwood. That unknown actor was Harrison Ford, whom the studio suits were convinced had no future in Hollywood. Ford gave Varda an extended interview, at his snowy ranch in Wyoming, for this documentary, and there is absolutely priceless footage of Harrison Ford in the 1960s. At Demy's request, Varda shot these silent screen test clips of Ford, and you will not believe how great those few seconds are. Perhaps, Varda speculates, if Ford had done the film instead of Lockwood, it might not have been a flop and they may have stayed in California. What a moment, 1969, after Algeria and France in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, then Vietnam. It also happens to be the year I was born.

I also enjoyed the section about his big break working as an extra on a history film. The footage shows him as a series of anonymous extra characters, always dying very dramatically. This film is definitely fascinating to watch, but if you really want to understand Jacques Demy, you must watch Jacquot de Nantes, too.

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