Jacques Demy rides a new wave of interest all the way to Cork

The director is enjoying a comeback as an icon of French New Wave cinema, having fallen out of fashion by the time of his death in 1990

Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 01:00

The second World War has just ended. A 14-year-old boy in short trousers stares through a shop window at a Pathé Baby home-movie camera.

Jacques Demy is from a modest family: his father Raymond is a garage mechanic, his mother Marie-Lou a hairdresser. They live in the Atlantic coast town of Nantes, where guignol puppet shows, Disney movies and operettas illuminate “Jacquot’s” childhood through the war. He wants that camera more than anything. So he barters his possessions for it.

Demy’s initiation to film-making, and his eventual triumph over his father’s objections, is recounted in Jacquot de Nantes , the feature-length docudrama that Demy’s widow, director Agnès Varda, based on his diaries.

Demy’s fortunes peaked with the musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg , considered his masterpiece, in 1964. He made more than a dozen feature films between 1961 and 1988, before his work went out of fashion. He died of Aids in 1990.

In recent years Demy has enjoyed a comeback as an icon of New Wave cinema. Some 100,000 people attended Cinémathèque Française’s tribute to him last year. A Demy retrospective at the University of California, Berkeley, played to full houses last summer.

Now the 25th annual French Film Festival in Cork has joined in. Around the theme “The Sound of French Cinema”, from March 2nd to 9th, the Alliance Française will screen eight Demy feature films, four of his shorts and three Varda documentaries about him.

Demy’s films stand out for their tender, almost feminine sensibility. His young, restless characters long to escape from the provinces. They sometimes love, are often disappointed. Demy’s passion for painting and music also marked his films, nine of which were scored by his “cinema brother”, composer Michel Legrand.

At the Tours film festival in 1958, Demy met the New Wave directors François Truffaut, Louis Malle, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, Jean-Luc Godard and Varda, whom he would marry in 1962. The young generation of film-makers frequented the Cinémathèque, and met for long discussions in the offices of Cahiers du Cinéma , the New Wave review that rebelled against “bourgeois cinema”.

Encounters with Lola
Godard introduced Demy to his producer, George de Beauregard, who financed Demy’s first feature film, Lola , released in 1961. Lola opens with a nod to Hollywood: a mystery man in white suit and stetson, whose identity will be revealed, plies the streets of Nantes in a white Cadillac. Anouk Aimée plays Lola, the long-legged cabaret singer with a black lace corset, feather boa, cigarette holder and black eye-liner who sleeps around while she waits for the return of the father of her boy.

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