Reviews and notes
Jacques Demy died in October, 1990. During the last year of his life, he participated in the making of this film by his wife, Agnes Varda, that reconstructs the events of his childhood. Completed in early 1991, it incorporates brief reminiscences on screen by Demy himself, filmed by Varda, who also provides an occasional linking commentary.
Closing the circle of his life, Jacques Demy's final film reassembles his first experiments in celluloid and returns him to the innocence that shaped them. It forms an affecting and sentimental memoir, in which the undeflectable Jacquot prepares to make his mark on the world at the same time as Jacques, in placid connivance, is letting it slip away. Caught between them, as if hoping to restore the man she knows by resurrecting the child she never met, Agnes Varda pays tribute as film historian, as filmmaker and as wife, the roles impatient with each other, jostling for space.
Sometimes she films as Demy would have done, with eloquent tracking shots, bright bursts of colour and carnival, musical phrases shared joyously among the characters. Sometimes she plays analyst, flashing forward to glimpses of a pregnant Catherine Deneuve, a puppet-theatre castle constructed full size, a roulette wheel, a flute player, an army of citizens in the streets of Nantes, to remind us that Demy's choice of images in his films was dictated with surprising frequency by the encounters of his childhood. As film buffs, like her, we are invited to spot the references.
Sometimes, too, she films as Agnes Varda, documenting the resilience of wives, mothers, girlfriends, in cool and unaccusing detail, and allowing herself an affectionate irreverence. "You and your camera are too small for me'; says Reine, the girl next door. "Go back to your dreams, little Jacquot".
Part wistful, part exasperated, Varda stages this elusive awareness - never quite a romance - between the boy and his neighbouring cousin, all acrobatic grace and no-nonsense aspiration, as the primary incentive, although he never recognises it, for the young Demy's obsession with cinema. Through film, he finds a means of becoming puppet-master, controlling behaviour which in life had too often been less than amenable, and bringing an operatic logic to a world which, for the war years of his childhood, had been demonstrably disordered. But beyond this, the pragmatic Varda of Cleo de 5 a 7
also speaks to us, wryly convinced even now that the irrational, like a German soldier intruding briefly on a picnic, has its own perverse fascination.
Could it be, after all, that she feels she didn't know him well enough? From time to time, the chronology of his youth is interrupted by intense close-ups of the 'real' Demy. At this desperate proximity his eyes no longer speak, but seem merely reflective, their attention long directed elsewhere. Defeated, Varda's camera retreats so that, with short, genial comments, Demy can give an account of himself by more conventional means.
He describes the difficulty he had with the tracking shot in his 9.5mm animated epic Attaque Nocturne
(now lost, the film was reconstructed for Jacquot de Nantes
), but when we see the finished product the vital movement is missing. No matter; as a tribute to so much that we will miss, now that Demy has been unable to expand the radius of his career (fifty films, he used to promise, all about the same characters), Agnes Varda assembles the music and colours of a special childhood with welcome tenderness.
- Philip Strick, Sight and Sound, February 1992.
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