This sidebar series to our Jacques Demy retrospective presents some of the director's formative cinematic influences, including the classic musicals Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris and films by Bresson, Cocteau, Vigo and Visconti.
Due to a programming change, Paradise Lost will not be screening as part of Paradise Regained: Demy's Favourites. It has been replaced with The Blue Angel. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Expanding and enriching our Jacques Demy retrospective, this summer-long survey of great American and European classics, all of them personal favourites of Demy, attests to the French master's exquisite and wide-ranging taste.
Not since the Cinematheque featured a sidebar of two dozen of "Fassbinder's Favourites" to accompany the retrospective dedicated to Rainer Werner Fassbinder a decade ago have we accorded a sort of similar posthumous "carte blanche" to a director, and few deserve the honour more than Jacques Demy. As ravenously cinephilic as Fassbinder, and with some striking overlaps in taste (Visconti, Bresson, Mankiewicz, Hawks, Ray, Sternberg et al.), Demy was born movie-mad, as Jacquot de Nantes (screening on July 9) reveals, and followed the fashion of his confreres in the nouvelle vague by filling his films, from the first feature forward, with homages to his favourite movies and directors. (Demy dedicated his debut feature Lola to his acknowledged mentor Max Ophüls, the film's title referring to the latter's legendary Lola Montès.)
Demy's nods to his preferences and precedents were often obvious — the casting of Gene Kelly in The Young Girls of Rochefort or Micheline Presle in Donkey Skin, Demy's remaking Orphée in Parking — but they were sometimes furtive or circuitous: in Lola, one glimpses an old photograph of Elina Labourdette (cast in the film as the man-eating Mme. Denoyers) that is a production still of the actress in her cabaret attire in Bresson's Les Dames du Bois du Boulogne, while Catherine Deneuve turns up on a magazine cover in Model Shop. Sometimes Demy makes his homage do double duty: that reference to Les Dames in Lola is also an invocation of Cocteau, who wrote the acidulous script for Bresson's film. Though Vincente Minnelli would seem to be Demy's lodestar (Three Seats for the 26th pays extended tribute to the Hollywood auteur), Cocteau is the more ubiquitous influence. Gilbert Adair discerns everywhere in Demy's cinema "Cocteau, the spidery watermark of whose profile is clearly stamped on Demy's subject matter (though the dockside bars of Cocteau's stories are considerably more louche) and, especially, dialogue.… Cocteau coined an idiom that was both precious and realistic; and with Demy this same stylized realism is, as it were, the pill to help the sugar go down."
In this selection, which could have easily run to dozens of other titles, one finds the cardinal qualities of Demy's cinema in the films he loved: romantic fatalism and studio artifice (White Nights); delirious song and dance (Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris); a swirling and crane-crazy camera style (The Earrings of Madame de...); lyrical romanticism (L'Atalante); a taste for tough, outgoing actresses (Anna Magnani, Bette Davis, Maria Casarès, Joan Crawford) and terse, inward actors (Martin Lassalle, Sterling Hayden); and an emphasis on singular mise-en-scène and the occasional mise-en-abyme that create insular, time-tricked worlds (Pickpocket). The rhyming epigraph Demy appended to Lola — "Pleure qui peut, rit qui veut" ("Cry if you can, laugh if you want") — might not extend to every film in this selection — one or two are dry-eyed and mirthless — but all sanctify Demy's supreme taste in cinema and his passion for films that enchant, overwhelm or, as the French would say, bouleversent.
— James Quandt