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‘Jacquot’ (PG)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 06, 1993

The French new wave filmmaker Jacques Demy, who died in 1990, was a poet of delirious pleasures. Demy's was a cinema of fantasy and meringue. And in "Jacquot," his wife, Agnes Varda, has conjured up an appropriately joyous tribute to his memory.

Varda, a prominent director in her own right whose provocative debut feature, "Cleo From 5 to 7," hit theaters in 1961 -- one year after Demy made his much-heralded first effort with "Lola" -- shared the last 32 years of Demy's life with him. And these filmed recollections originated in the flood of memory that overswept the artist during his later years.

Varda is right to call "Jacquot" an "evocation." With these memories as raw material, she uses staged events from her husband's past, as well as snippets from priceless Demy baubles like "Bay of Angels," "Lola" and "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," to create a work that both mirrors his spirit and -- like his own films -- virtually defies categorization.

Describing the film as "a voyage into childhood, into all childhoods ... " Varda has combined these odds and ends, these fragments of his family's seemingly enchanted working-class life in the seaside town of Nantes, and slivers from his love of the puppet theater, of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and the French siren Mirielle Balin. Varda has taken all the various rivers of Demy's past and forced them to flow into a single loving reverie.

The emphasis is on the word "force." Certainly a life's events have never combined so blissfully as Varda suggests they did for Demy. The translation of his boyhood experience of the war, for example -- or of his mother making an omelet -- into movie images was effortless, the movie suggests. The happy rendering of a contented life. And after a while it strains credulity.

And for all its bigheartedness, the picture feels a little plodding and overdeliberate, especially when you consider that its subject was an alchemist whose movies were so nimble that they seem almost winged, so loosely hedonistic that he could move back and forth between fantasy and reality like a chameleon.

Through all this, Varda also attempts to maintain the same tone of magical ebullience that her subject created, and unfortunately, she is only partly successful. Demy's best movies were romantic arias to coincidence and fate. By contrast, Varda appears more earthbound and nostalgic; her film's spirit may have been dampened by its subject's passing, and the disappearance of the world and the traditions that spawned him.

The result is a genre-busting melange of documentary, family album, essay, memoir and elegy. In "Jacquot," Varda traces Demy's evolution as an artist -- including the memory of receiving his first camera and the making of his early animations. But she also captures the blossoming of Demy's uncommonly serene, infatuated verve for movies and life.

Varda's devotion to the memory of her husband is evident in every frame of "Jacquot," but the weight of her affection may have blinded her some and caused her to idealize her subject. In this case the life has been sculpted to make it fit the films, rather than the other way around.

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