Jacques Demy

Jacques Demy
Born (1931-06-05)5 June 1931
Pontchâteau, Loire-Atlantique, France
Died 27 October 1990(1990-10-27) (aged 59)
Paris, France
Cause of death Complications of HIV/AIDS
Resting place Montparnasse Cemetery
Paris, France
Occupation Film director, screenwriter
Years active 1955–88
Movement French New Wave
Spouse(s) Agnès Varda (m. 1962)

Jacques Demy (French: [dəmi]; 5 June 1931 – 27 October 1990) was a French director and screenwriter. He appeared in the wake of the French New Wave alongside contemporaries like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Demy's films are well known for their sumptuous look, drawing on Hollywood musicals, fairytales, jazz, and opera. His films are also distinguishable by their overlapping continuity (i.e., characters cross over from film to film), lush musical scores (typically composed by Michel Legrand) and themes like teenaged love, labor rights, incest, and the intersection between dreams and reality.


After working with the animator Paul Grimault and the filmmaker Georges Rouquier, Demy directed his first feature film, Lola, in 1961, with Anouk Aimée playing the eponymous cabaret singer. The Demy universe here emerges full-fledged. Characters burst into song (courtesy of composer and lifelong Demy-collaborator Michel Legrand); iconic Hollywood imagery is lovingly appropriated as in the opening scene with the man in a white Stetson in the Cadillac, daringly set to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony); plot is dictated by the director's fascination with fate, and stock themes of chance encounters and long-lost love; and the setting, as with so many of Demy's films, is the French Atlantic coast of his childhood, specifically the seaport town of Nantes.

La Baie des Anges (The Bay of Angels, 1963), starring Jeanne Moreau, took the theme of fate further, with its story of love at the roulette tables.

Demy is best known for his original musical, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1964), with a score by Legrand. Although the subversion of established genres was a typically New Wave obsession (notably Godard's playful thriller-cum-sci-fi, Alphaville), Demy was unusual in actually recreating them literally. The whimsical concept of singing all the dialogue sets the tone for this tragedy of the everyday. The film also sees the emergence of Demy's trademark visual style: whereas Lola, filmed by Godard's cinematographer Raoul Coutard, has a New Wave black and white austerity, Les Parapluies is shot in saturated supercolour, with every detail—neck-ties, wallpaper, even Catherine Deneuve's bleached-blonde hair—selected for maximum visual impact. The young man, Roland Cassard, from Lola (Marc Michel) reappears here, marrying Deneuve. Such reappearances are typical of Demy's work.

Demy's subsequent films never quite captured audience and critical acclaim the way that Les Parapluies had, although he continued to make ambitious and original dramas and musicals. Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967), another whimsical musical, features Deneuve and her real-life sister Françoise Dorléac as sisters living in the seaside town of Rochefort, daughters of Danielle Darrieux. It has stunning color photography, some of the best French songs of the period (it was nominated for an Oscar for best musical score), and breathtaking dancing by Gene Kelly and West Side Story's George Chakiris. Lola reappears in the naturalistic drama Model Shop (1969), his first American film, starring Gary Lockwood as a confused young architect navigating the streets of Los Angeles looking for love and meaning in life. Peau d'Âne (Donkey Skin, 1970) is a visually extravagant musical interpretation of a classic French fairytale which highlights the tale's incestuous overtones, starring Deneuve, Jean Marais, and Delphine Seyrig.

Subsequent films are less highly regarded, but may well be due for reappraisal: David Thomson wrote about "the fascinating application of the operatic technique to an unusually dark story" in Une chambre en ville (A Room in Town, 1982). L'événement le plus important depuis que l'homme a marché sur la lune (1973) ("A Slightly Pregnant Man") is an interesting look back at the pressures of second-wave feminism in France, and the fears it elicited in men. After years of neglect, Demy's strengths have been recognized, and Parapluies de Cherbourg was digitally restored and reissued to great acclaim in 1998.

Personal life

Demy was the husband of fellow director Agnès Varda, whose Jacquot de Nantes, a film version of Demy's autobiographical notebooks, is a loving account of Demy's childhood and his lifelong love of theatre and cinema. Demy himself appears in the film in the opening and closing sequences, and at several points throughout. He had two children with Varda; Rosalie Varda-Demy, who was the biological daughter of Antoine Bourseiller, and Mathieu Demy.

Jacques Demy died from complications of AIDS on 27 October 1990 at age 59 and was interred in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Montparnasse.[1]

Select filmography


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