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‘Jacquot’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 06, 1993

French filmmaker Agnes Varda, married for 30 years to director Jacques Demy, had heard her husband's childhood stories for years. But as the aging Demy faced leukemia, he returned more intensely to those tales, as well ones she'd never heard. Varda decided to make a film about those reminiscences before they were lost forever. She was just in time. Demy, who appears in "Jacquot" (released in France as "Jacquot de Nantes") to narrate some of his experiences, died in October 1990, shortly before the film's completion. He had seen most of the material, however, and reportedly was very pleased.

Part fiction and part documentary, "Jacquot" reenacts Demy's formative years in western France, mixing family vignettes with appropriately reflective scenes from his later movies, including "Lola" and "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg." It details the young artist's determination to make movies from an early age: The young Demy puts on his own puppet shows, then creates rudimentary -- but surprisingly sophisticated -- films with a used movie camera, stolen celluloid and almost irreduceable, self-taught determination. Like the existentially sweetened world of his films, it won't be long before this artist (played by three different actors: Philippe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud and Laurent Monnier) achieves his dream.

Visually, "Jacquot" is an attractive symphony of color and black-and-white scenes, a deft intercutting of past and present. "Jacquot" is so benevolently composed, even the hardships seem like great times. World War II, a dark period to most of us, is little more than a pesky setback in Demy's life. Demy's father is another merely temporary obstacle. A garage owner with no patience for artistic occupations, he orders his son to learn car mechanics, refusing for several years to let the boy attend filmmaking school in Paris. But it's just a matter of time before Papa caves in.

Varda, best known for her films "Cleo From Five to Seven" and "One Sings, the Other Doesn't," reconstructs Demy's physical past with painstaking verisimilitude. The Demy garage and family home are faithful replicas. A three-minute film -- made when Demy was 16 -- has been reconstructed from blurry photographs of the real, miniature set Demy constructed. Varda has also recreated locations and retrieved many physical possessions from Demy's past. But amid this attic shakedown, something has failed to tumble out -- an emotional center. Like a photograph album, "Jacquot" ultimately means more to Varda and the departed Demy than it does to outside eyes. The surface atmosphere of "Jacquot" is absorbing, and the detailing of Demy's life reflects Varda's conscientious dedication, but its underlying feeling is cool.

"Jacquot" is a seamless collection of anecdotes and highlights from Demy's life -- as filtered through Varda's vision. But it's too indirect -- too private -- to be heartwarming. The most emotional moments -- when "Jacquot" reaches directly to the audience -- are when the real Demy faces and talks to the camera. There's something about the man's presence, his craggy face, his gentle disposition, his fond reveries, that soars above everything. It helps you understand why the film was made in the first place.

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