The 59th San Sebastián Film Festival will be devoting a comprehensive retrospective to the work of the French filmmaker Jacques Demy (Pontchâteau, 1931- París, 1990), a key figure in French cinema who breathed fresh life into the musical genre. Although initially linked with the young directors who formed part of the nouvelle vague, Demy’s work ended up becoming so unique and difficult to classify that he set off along an utterly personal path all of his own. His original approach to “singing films” and his exquisite sense of artistic direction always shunned any fashion or trend in cinema at that time.
Demy studied Fine Arts and started in animated films as an assistant to Paul Grimault. After directing several shorts, Demy made his feature-film debut with the first of his great films, Lola (1961), an emblematic French nouvelle vague film. He reconfirmed his talent in a melodrama set in the world of gambling, La baie des anges, (Bay of Angels) 1963. However, it was his third film that was to make a real impact all over the world and definitively established his unique vision of cinema. This was Les parapluies de Cherbourg, (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) 1964, which won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Demy’s passion for musicals was to be continued in his delightful homage to Hollywood films, Les demoiselles de Rochefort, (The Young Girls of Rochefort) 1967. In his following films, Demy continued to explore his whimsical sense of aesthetics and cinematic narrative in Model Shop, 1969), Peau d’âne (Donkey Skin), 1970) or Une chambre en ville, 1982), among others.
The retrospective includes all of Demy’s full-length films, as well as several of his shorts. Three documentaries directed by the woman who was his wife, Agnès Varda, also round off the season and help us to learn more about his life and work.
The director Agnès Varda, his son, the actor and director Mathieu Demy, whose debut film as a director, Americano, is competing this year in the Official Section at the Festival, and Rosalie Varda, who was a costume designer on some of Demy's films, will be coming to San Sebastián to present the season.
The season is rounded off by a book on Jacques Demy published in collaboration with the Spanish Film Library and coordinated by Quim Casas and Ana Cristina Iriarte, with articles written by Santiago Aguilar, Jordi Batlle, Jean-Pierre Berthomé, Felipe Cabrerizo, Roberto Cueto, Zigor Etxebeste, Violeta Kovacsis, José María Latorre, Carlos Losilla, Michel Marie, Inma Merino, José Enrique Monterde, Ángel Quintana, Esteve Riambau, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Sergi Sánchez and Nuria Vidal.
This season is co-organised with the Spanish Film Library and it is sponsored by EGEDA.
THE FILMS IN THE SEASON
LE SABOTIER DU VAL DE LOIRE (1956)
Jacques Demy’s first film was this documentary short about a clog maker in the town of La Chappelle-Basse-Mer, in the Loire Valley. Demy respectfully filmed his everyday activity and his craftsmanship in detail.
LE BEL INDIFFÉRENT (1957)
In 1957 the actor Jean Marais gave Demy the opportunity to personally get to know Jean Cocteau, the filmmaker, poet, playwright and painter he admired. Cocteau was so impressed with the young aspiring director’s passion and enthusiasm that he let him adapt this short play of his. This is Demy’s first fictional film, in which he already shows his obsession with the subject of love and his interest in the chromatic effects that were to be so typical later on in his career.
Jean-Marie Viennay, a parish priest in the town of Ars, was beatified when his incorrupt body was discovered in his tomb. Demy evokes his character with admirable sobriety and avoids any sentimentalism, by filming the places he often went to and the sermons that he preached. The result is a portrait of his complex personality: he is shown to us as a humble servant of God, as a demanding parish priest and as a holy man.
LES SEPT PÉCHÉS CAPITAUX: LA LUXURE section (1962)
This collective film included seven episodes made by popular directors at that time with the common theme of the deadly sins. Demy was responsible for the section devoted to «lust», an ironic light-hearted piece starring Jean-Louis Trintignant.
Demy’s first feature film already presents the themes, motifs and settings that would be recurrent features in his career: characters trapped in melancholy love stories, his beloved city of Nantes as a backdrop, musical numbers… Anouk Aimée plays Lola, one of the emblematic characters in his films, while it is here that musician Michel Legrand begins his successful collaboration with the filmmaker.
LA BAIE DES ANGES (1963)
A stormy love story, so typical of Demy, set in the casinos on the French Riviera. Jeanne Moreau, in the only film she made with Demy, plays a femme fatale whose only passion seems to be gambling which becomes the obsession of a young man bored with his dull life in a provincial town.
LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG (1964)
The most popular and unforgettable film in Demy’s entire career, which won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival and made him famous all over the world. With the invaluable help of Catherine Deneuve’s beauty and Michel Legrand’s lovely tunes, Demy shot the total musical: a beautiful love story in which all the dialogues are sung.
LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT (1967)
After revolutionising the genre with Les parapluies de Cherbourg, Demy decided to pay homage to classic Hollywood musicals by transferring its colours, songs and dances to the town of Rochefort. Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac (sisters in fiction and real life) exude beauty and talent, Gene Kelly and George Chakiris are guest stars and Michel Legrand’s music never sounded so lively and dazzling.
MODEL SHOP (1969)
Jacques Demy’s American adventure: Anouk Aimée once again plays the role of Lola in this story in which she is transferred to the United States and has a brief encounter with a young man who is heavily into the spirit of the counterculture of the 1960s, pacifism and half-baked existential ideas. This is a fascinating clash between Demy’s magical aesthetic and the political and social reality of that period.
PEAU D’ÂNE (1970)
Demy brings one of his favourite childhood stories, Donkey Skin by Charles Perrault, to the big screen. With his favourite actress Catherine Deneuve and the essential actor in Jean Cocteau’s films, Jean Marais, he shot this delirious pop fantasy against an incestuous background, with ironic musical numbers and a clear moral: «Little girls never marry their daddies».
THE PIED PIPER (1972)
This time Demy made his second foray into the world of fairy tales with a film, (shot in English with British actors) about the myth of the pied piper of Hamelin. Its attractive features include a medieval world put through the director’s unique aesthetic and the music by the folksinger-songwriter, Donovan, who stars in the film.
L’ÉVÉNEMENT LE PLUS IMPORTANT DEPUIS QUE L’HOMME A MARCHÉ SUR LA LUNE (1973)
Possibly the most eccentric and impossible to classify film in Demy’s career is this romantic comedy with an absurd story line: the marital bliss that a driving school instructor and a hairdresser enjoy is shattered when the husband discovers that he is pregnant. Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni create an unusual hybrid somewhere between French cinema and Italian comedy.
LADY OSCAR (1979)
Demy was asked by Japanese producers to bring a highly successful manga, La rosa de Versalles, by Ryoko Ikeda, to the big screen. Shot in English, the film enabled the director to recreate the pomp and ostentation of pre-revolutionary France and play with the misunderstandings created by the androgynous nature of the main character, a beautiful woman brought up as a man.
LA NAISSANCE DU JOUR (1980)
A film made for TV that Demy adapted from an autobiographical novel by Colette. Now in her later years, the writer’s passion is aroused once again when she meets a younger man. One of the most obscure films in Demy’s career, it is surprisingly lucid and serene and well worth taking a fresh look at.
UNE CHAMBRE EN VILLE 1982)
Demy returned to the musical with a project that was totally out of step with the films being made in the 1980s. It was a passionate, tragic love story set against the backdrop of the workers’ strikes in 1955 in Nantes. A kind of modern opera that was a real declaration of principles by the filmmaker, on this occasion the music was provided by Michel Colombier.
Another of Jacques Demy’s unusual projects, this was a film that was utterly misunderstood in its day and marked by the picturesque aesthetic of the period that it was shot in: a fresh homage to Jean Cocteau that took the form of an updating of the myth of Orpheus set in the world of 1980s rock. In one of his last performances for cinema, the legendary Jean Marais (who played Orpheus for Cocteau) now plays Hades, the King of the underworld.
TROIS PLACES POUR LE 26 (1988)
A tribute to the great singer and actor Yves Montand in a strange mixture of fiction and fact: Montand plays himself in a story line that contains all the typical ingredients of Demy’s films: when the singer returns to his hometown Marseilles to put on a show he will come up against misunderstandings, entanglements and liaisons from the past, all interspersed with some essential musical numbers.
LA TABLE TOURNANTE (1988)
Jacques Demy took his first steps in the world of film as an assistant to the animated film director, Paul Grimault. This film pays tribute to his work by providing an overview of his animated films. Anouk Aimée also appears in the film
Documentaries by Agnès Varda
JACQUOT DE NANTES (1991)
Agnès Varda, Demy’s wife for almost thirty years, directs this delightful evocation of Jacques Demy by portraying his childhood and adolescence: the German occupation, his early love of theatre and cinema, his passion for films, his first few jobs as an amateur…
LES DEMOISELLES ONT EU 25 ANS (1993)
In this documentary Agnès Varda goes back to Rochefort 25 years after Jacques Demy shot his mythical film Las señoritas de Rochefort to recover the memories and testimony of the people who worked on it.
L’UNIVERS DE JACQUES DEMY (1995)
A didactic, moving overview of Jacques Demy’s work through interviews with some of his collaborators, clips from his films and home movies made by Agnès Varda herself.