Demy, Jacques: Iconic French Director (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The American Cinematheque presents a tribute to the great iconoclastic French director, Jacques Demy (1931-1990).

A member of the French New Wave, Demy made an impressive feature debut with the film “Lola,” in 1960, which he dedicated to Max Ophuls as a tribute to the latter’s masterpiece “Lola Montes.”

In his original work, he has shown tender romanticism and a visual style that could be described as deocrative and elegant.

His best known and most innovative film is the revolutionary musical “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” starring Catherine Deneuve, in which every world of dialogue is sung. The picture won the Palme d”or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival.

In 1962, Demy married director Agnes Varda, also a member of the New Wave. He died in 1990, at the age of 59, of a brain hemorrhage caused by lukemia.

BAY OF ANGEL 1963

Cine Tamaris, 79 min.
Written and directed by Jacques Demy.

One of director Demy’s darker and more melancholy efforts, his second feature (following his triumphant debut with LOLA) tells the story of a vacationing bank clerk (Claude Mann) who gets involved with compulsive gambler Jeanne Moreau. The characters are surrounded by lush settings – the film takes place against the backdrop of Nice casinos and beaches – yet the obsessive behavior and gray cinematography undercut the glamour at every ironic moment. Legend has it that Jacques Demy wrote the script for this classic in three days during a production delay on THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG! Michel Legrand’s music is haunting.

MODEL SHOP 1969

Columbia.
Written and directed by Jacques Demy.

Gary Lockwood stars as a young American who falls in love with French model Anouk Aimee in this, Jacques Demy’s only Hollywood studio feature (it was financed by Columbia). Aimee reprises her role as Lola from Demy’s first film, but neither she nor Lockwood is the real star of MODEL SHOP: that honor goes to the city of Los Angeles itself, which Demy photographs with the same blend of wonder and authenticity that characterize his French films. This is no idealized version of Hollywood – it’s an LA of supermarkets and parking lots – yet Demy’s romantic eye gives a style and dignity to even the most mundane people and locations.

THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT 1967

Miramax, 120 min.
Written and directed by Jacques Demy.

Director Jacques Demy’s love letter to American musicals, French cityscapes, and romance in general is one of his greatest triumphs, and one of the most gloriously invigorating movies ever made. The movie tells intersecting stories of a number of young dreamers – among them are Catherine Deneuve, Francoise Dorleac, and Daniele Darrieux – who continually miss meeting their ideal mates by mere city blocks – city blocks that are all authentic, as Demy matches realistic location shooting with sheer flights of musical fantasy. The entire film is an odd but entirely satisfying hybrid of dreams and reality, a motif perfectly expressed by Michel Legrand’s score and Demy’s typically precise color palette. An added bonus: Gene Kelly in some of the most delightful moments in musical history.

THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG 1964

Zeitgeist, 91 min.
Written and directed by Jacques Demy.

Auto mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) gets his girlfriend Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) pregnant just before he leaves to fight in the Algerian War; they swear eternal allegiance to each other, but circumstances force Genevieve to marry another man and move to Paris. Jacques Demy tells this story entirely through music and lyrics, yet his musical is no fantasy.