Nationality: French. Born: Pontchâteau (Loire-Atlantique), 5 June 1931. Education: Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Nantes; Ecole Technique de Photographie et de Cinématographiques, Paris. Family: Married director Agnes Varda, 1962; children: Mathieu and Rosalie. Career: Assistant to animator Paul Grimault, 1952; assistant to Georges Rouquier, 1954; made first short film, Le Sabotier du Val de Loire, began association with editor Anne-Marie Cotret, 1955; directed first feature, Lola, 1961. Died: 27 October, 1990, of a brain hemorrhage resulting from leukemia.
Films as Director and Scriptwriter:
Le Sabotier du Val de Loire
Le Bel Indifférent
Le Musée Grévin
La Mère et l'infant (co-d); Ars
"La Luxure" (Lust) episode of Les Sept Péchés capitaux (Seven Deadly Sins)
La Baie des Anges (Bay of the Angels)
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort)
The Model Shop (+ pr)
Peau d'ane (Donkey Skin)
The Pied Piper of Hamelin (The Pied Piper)
L'Évènement le plus important depuis que l'homme a marché sur la lune (A Slightly Pregnant Man)
Une Chambre en ville (A Room in Town)
Trois Places pour le 26 (Three Places for the 26th)
Lourdes et ses miracles (Rouquier) (asst d)
Arthur Honegger (Rouquier) (asst d)
S.O.S. Noronha (Rouquier) (asst d)
Les Quatre Cents Coups (Truffaut) (role as policeman)
Paris nous appartient (Rivette) (role as guest at party)
Jacquot de Nantes (role as himself)
By DEMY: articles—
"I Prefer the Sun to the Rain," in Film Comment (New York), Spring 1965.
Interview with Marsha Kinder, in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Spring 1967.
"Frenchman in Hollywood," an interview with Philip Scheuer, in Action (Los Angeles), November/December 1968.
"Lola in Los Angeles," in Films and Filming (London), April 1970.
"Cinéastes et musiciens," in Ecran (Paris), September 1975.
Interview and biofilmography, in Film Dope (London), September 1976.
Interview with G. Haustrate, in Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1981.
Interview with Serge Daney, Jean Narboni, and Serge Toubiana, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1982.
On DEMY: book—
Berthome, Pierre, Jacques Demy: Les Racines du reve, Nantes, 1982.
On DEMY: articles—
Roud, Richard, "Rondo Galant," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1964.
Billard, Ginette, "Jacques Demy and His Other World," in FilmQuarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1964.
"Director of the Year," International Film Guide (London, New York), 1966.
Strick, Philip, "Demy Calls the Tune," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1971.
Petrie, G., "Jacques Demy," in Film Comment (New York), Winter 1971/72.
"Journals: Gilbert Adair from Paris," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1979.
"Demy Issue" of Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1981.
Dossier on Jacques Demy, in Cinématographe (Paris), October 1982.
Haustrate, Gaston, "Grand prix national du cinéma à Jacques Demy et Jean-Luc Godard," in Cinéma (Paris), February 1983.
Biofilmography in Première (Paris), November 1988.
Obituary, in New York Times, October 30, 1990.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), November 5, 1990.
Toubiana, S., "Jacques Demy ou le bel entetement," in Cahiers duCinéma, December 1990.
Hogue, P., "Playing for Keeps," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1991.
Hoberman, J. "The Art of Daydreaming," in Première (Paris), June 1993.
Johnson, William, "More Demy: In Praise of The Young Girls ofRochefort," Film Comment (Denville, New Jersey), vol. 32, no. 5, September-October 1996.
On DEMY: films—
Delvaux, André, Derrière l'écran, 1966.
Varda, Agnes, Jacquot de Nantes (appearance), 1991.
Varda, Agnes, Des demoiselles ont en 25 ans (The Young Girls Turn25), 1993.
Varda, Agnes, The World of Jacques Demy, 1995.
* * *
Jacques Demy's first feature film, Lola, is among the early distinguished products of the New Wave and is dedicated to Max Ophüls. These two facts in conjunction define its particular character. It proved to be the first in a series of loosely interlinked films (the intertextuality is rather more than a charming gimmick, relating as it does to certain thematic preoccupations already established in Lola itself); arguably, it remains the richest and most satisfying work so far in Demy's erratic, frustrating, but also somewhat underrated career.
The name and character of Lola (Anouk Aimée) herself can be traced to two previous celebrated female protagonists: the Lola Montès of Max Ophüls's film of that name, and the Lola-Lola (Marlene Dietrich) of von Sternberg's The Blue Angel, to which Demy pays homage in a number performed by Aimée in a top hat. The explicit philosophy of Lola Montès ("For me, life is movement") is enacted in Demy's film by the constant comings and goings, arrivals and departures, and intricate intercrossings of the characters. Ophüls's work has often been linked to concepts of fate; at the same time the auteurs of the early New Wave were preoccupied with establishing Freedom—as a metaphysical principle, to be enacted in their professional methodology. The tension between fate and freedom is there throughout Demy's work. Lola's credit sequence alternates the improvisatory freedom of jazz with the slow movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. The latter musical work is explicitly associated with destiny in the form of the huge white American car that brings back Michel, Lola's lover and father of her child, who, like his predecessors in innumerable folk songs, has left her for seven years to make his fortune. No film is more intricately and obsessively patterned, with all the characters interlinked: the middle-aged woman used to be Lola (or someone like her), her teenage daughter may become Lola (or someone like her). Yet neither resembles Lola as she is in the film: everyone is different, yet everyone is interchangeable.
Two subsequent Demy films relate closely to Lola. In Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Roland, Lola's rejected lover, recounts his brief liaison with Lola to the visual accompaniment of a flashback to the arcade that was one of their meeting-places. In addition, Lola herself reappears in The Model Shop. Two other films are bound in to the series as well. Les Demoiselles de Rochefort is linked by means of a certain cheating on the part of Demy—Lola has been found murdered and dismembered in a laundry basket, but the corpse is a different Lola. Especially poignant, as the series continues, is the treatment of the abrupt, unpredictable, seemingly fortuitous happy ending. At the end of Lola, Lola drives off with Michel and their child (as Roland of Parapluies, discarded and embittered, departs on his diamond-smuggling trip to South Africa). At the conclusion of Le Baie des Anges—a film that, at the time, revealed no connection with Lola—Jackie (Jeanne Moreau), a compulsive gambler, manages to leave the casino to follow her lover before she knows the result of her bet: two happy endings which are exhilarating precisely because they are so arbitrary. Then, several films later, in Model Shop, Lola recounts how her great love Michel abandoned her to run off with a compulsive gambler called Jackie. Thus both happy endings are reversed in a single blow. It is not so much that Demy doesn't believe in happy endings: he simply doesn't believe in permanent ones (as "life is movement"). The ambivalent, bittersweet "feel" of Demy is perhaps best summed up in the end of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, where the lovers, now both married to others, accidentally meet, implicitly acknowledge their love, and return with acceptance to the relationships to which they are committed. Outside the Lola series, Demy's touch has been uncertain. His two fairy-tale films, Peau d'ane and The Pied Piper, unfortunately tend to confirm the common judgment that he is more a decorator than a creator. But he should not be discounted. A Room in Town, a return to the Lola mode if not to the Lola characters, was favorably received. Demy's final two credits, Parking and Three Places for the 26th, are musicals which disappointed in that they were unable to capture the spark of his earlier work. Agnes Varda, his wife of almost three decades, then directed a film about Demy titled Jacquot de Nantes, which was released a year after his death. The film is a poignant, straight-from-the-heart record of the measure of a man's life, with Varda shifting between interviews with Demy (tenderly shot in extreme close-up), sequences from his films, and a narrative which details the youth of Demy in Nantes during the 1940s and relates how he cultivated a love of the movies. The film works best, however, as a beautiful and poignantly composed love letter. Its essence is summed up in one of its opening shots: the camera pans the content of a watercolor, focusing first on a nude woman, then on a nude man, and finally on their interlocking hands.
Jacquot de Nantes is obviously a very personal film. But it was not meant to be a tribute; rather, it was conceived and filmed when Demy was still alive. "Jacques would speak about his childhood, which he loved," Varda explained at a New York Film Festival press conference. "His memories were very vivid. I told him, 'Why don't you write about them?' So he did, and he let me read the pages. The more he wrote the more he remembered—even the names of the children who sat next to him in school. Most children do not know what they want to do when they grow up. But Jacques did, from the time he was 12. He had an incredible will. So I said, 'This [material] would make a good film.' I wrote the script, and I tried to capture the spirit of Jacques and his family, and the way people spoke and acted in [the 1940s]. We shot the film in the exact [locations] in which he grew up. I also filmed an interview with him. It's just Jacques speaking about his childhood. It's not a documentary about Jacques Demy. It's just him saying, 'Yes, this is true. This is my life.' "He saw most of the final [version]. When Jacques 'went away,' I had to finish the film. It was difficult, but that's the only thing I know. I think the film makes Jacques very alive."
Demy was the subject of two follow-ups to Jacquot de Nantes, also directed by Varda: The Young Girls Turn 25, a sentimental reminiscence of the filming of The Young Girls of Rochefort and The World of Jacques Demy, an intensely intimate documentary-biography which includes clips from his films and interviews with those who worked with and respected him.
—Robin Wood, updated by Rob Edelman