Tag Archives: Jacques Demy

The ending of Jacquot de Nantes

 

Screenshot 2019-05-12 at 07.57.22.pngI suppose no one can ever know what goes on within a couple. But I do hope someone writes a biography of Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda so we at least get to know a little more than we do now, which is that they met, fell in love, had a child to accompany that of Varda’s from a previous relationship, broke up, got back together in the end. We also know Demy was bisexual. To what extent is Le bonheur autobiographical, if not in plot, in feeling? We know that Demy was dying of AIDS when Varda filmed him for Jacquot de Nantes, something that Demy then wished to be kept secret. And we know that she loved him. Her camera caresses his hair, his face, his body, it pans through his skin, mottled with liver spots, and then on the off-chance you thought she didn’t love him enough, she sings him Terrain vagues by Jacques Prevért, with its beautiful connotations of land and sea, but also of incertitude, of a proximity that ebbs and flows but which nonetheless offers a love to drown oneself in:

Terrain vagues

Démons et merveilles, vents et marées,
Au loin déjà la mer s’est retirée,
Et toi comme une algue,
Doucement caressée par le vent,
Dans les sables du lit,
Tu remues en rêvant.

Démons et merveilles, vents et marées,
Au loin déjà la mer s’est retirée,
Mais dans tes yeux entr’ouverts,
Deux petites vagues sont restées.

Démons et merveilles, vents et marées,
Deux petites vagues

Deux petites larmes

pour me noyer.

 

I’ve translated loosely –I’m no poet, it can only be loosely — as follows:

Demons and wonders, winds and tides,

In the distance already the sea has withdrawn,

And you like an algae,

In a bed of sand gently caressed by the wind,

Dreamily stir,

 

Demons and wonders, winds and tides,

The sea has already withdrawn into the distance,

But two little waves remain in your half-opened eyes.

 

Demons and wonders, winds and tides,

Two little tears,

two little waves,

to drown myself in.

 

 

 

It floors me each time, making me wistful, sad — no one’s loved me like Varda loves Demy — and leaves me admiring: If no one’s loved me like Varda loves Demy, maybe one can learn to love as lovingly, fully, as openly and acceptingly as she.

José Arroyo

Love theme from Les parapluies de Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, France, 1964)

I’m a sap. I know. But this gets to me every time. The music is by Michel Legrand. Catherine Deneuve is the young girl in love. The almost as beautiful Nino Castelnueovo is the young man who loves her back but is conscripted into two years of military service. You might note the influence of the MGM musical: –the streets were painted so that the colour scheme could become one of those largely unnoticed but crucial elements that create meaning and feeling in movies — perhaps excessively so: see how in the bar the drink on the table matches the background yellow. Vincente Minnelli was a particular influence on director Jacques Demy and you can detect it in the use of background, décor, costumes and particularly in the flowing camera movements. Everything is consciously put in the frame, everything signifies — that’s why we feel it so deeply. The end, when the couple seems to be floating on air, is particularly lovely — and significant — as the rest of the film is about how all those young dreams are crushed. For many years that type of shot with the camera maintaining equal distance from the characters whilst they seemed to move seamlessly, as if standing still on an a moving sidewalk, was often to be found in Spike Lee’s films but with lesser impact and effect. Seeing it on its first release and far away from home, Kurt Vonnegut wrote his wife, ‘I saw Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I took very hard. To an unmoored, middle-aged man like myself, it was heartbreaking. That’s all right. I like to have my heart broken[1].’ One of the great musical numbers of all time and a very wonderful film.

José Arroyo


[1] Kurt Vonnegut, Letters, Edited and with an introduction by Dan Wakefield, London: Vintage Books, 2013; p. 107.