'Jacquot' finds, shows some transcendent truths

MOVIE REVIEW

September 13, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

There's always something new and "Jacquot" is it.

An amazement in form, the movie is if nothing else a festival of hyphens: it's the first (and probably last) memoir-biography-interview- dramatization with annotations from the canon as done by the late subject's wife!

The subject, in this case, is the French director Jacques Demy, most widely noted for his radical (in form) musical of 1964 "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg." Demy, a gentle, evidently wonderful man, was married to Agnes Varda, a director herself, who bases this film on her husband's unfinished memoirs. Before he died, he collaborated in the project to the extent of commenting on some of his memories in the form of an on-camera interview.

But, more than anything else, the movie is an investigation into the sources of an artist's imagination. It follows young Jacquot (played by a progression of actors) through his Nantes boyhood as the eldest son of a less than prosperous but more than loving mechanic, his first attraction to puppet shows and then animation, his joyless apprenticeship in a technical school, his experiments with animation, the war and his final departure to Paris and the life of an artist.

Varda is extremely ingenious in the ways she encodes the various meanings in the life of Jacquot. His daily, almost commonplace, experience is photographed in a severe black and white, an almost mock-cinema verite method, with prosaic camera set-ups and an almost complete lack of self-awareness, as it examines the boy's relationships with his father and mother, his experiences in school and so forth.

But now and then something will blast into Jacquot's imagination, channel straight through to the core of his unconscious and Varda registers that image -- the puppet shows were great influences on the boy, for example -- in vivid color.

And sometimes she'll go even farther, chronicling the way in which an image sinks in so deep into his subconscious, it springs out into the work that he would later do. Vargas re-creates the "inspirational" episode, then shows his usage of it, filtered through his imagination, by incorporating clips from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" or "The Young Girls of Rochefort" or some other beloved Demy classic.

Occasionally, Demy will appear himself and comment on the episode in question, his thoughts and his feelings.

Occasionally, he'll hold in contemplation an icon from that age -- the small movie camera with which he shot his first stop-motion film. Scenes from those early efforts are shown, as well.

I know, I know: it sounds like a guided tour of "The Jacques Demy Museum." It's Everything You Never Wanted to Know (And More) about Jacques Demy. And it's true that if you don't know and love Jacques Demy, you might be a little at sea.

That said, I must say also that the movie so surely made and so convincing in its re-creations of the life and times that it soon takes on universal meanings. The dreamy little boy who grew up to be a great artist could be any dreamy little boy in any country, now, then or next century. It's basically a biography of all the boys and girls who found it at the movies.

MOVIE REVIEW

"Jacquot"

Starring Phillipe Maron and Eduard Joubeaud

Directed by Agnes Varda

Released by Sony Classics

Rated PG

***

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