Jacquot de Nantes

Andrei Tarkovsky described filmmaking as “sculpting in time”.

If that sounds onerous and self-serious, leave it to Agnès Varda to make it look feather-light, humane and as natural as breathing.  

Jacquot de Nantes is Varda’s tribute to her husband, the filmmaker Jacques Demy.

It's a mélange of documentary footage of Demy, fictionalisations of his childhood and excerpts from his own glowing films. What ties these all together – the charge running through the film – isn’t formal introspection or conceptual scheming but (there’s no other word for it) love: profound and attentive.

This is a coming-of-age story that folds back on itself from the vantage of a wistful, though never sentimentalising old age.

Jacquot grows up in an industrial corner of wartime France, entranced by the theatre and, before long, the cinema. The obstacles between him and his passions are starkly portrayed. But they meet their match in Jacquot’s sincere and practical dedication.

All the while, Varda’s eye is untroubled by dew. 

The resulting film is a celebration of cinema that is also a kind of anti-criticism.

Rather than poring over the influences or subtexts in Demy’s oeuvre, Varda places it in exuberant counterpoint with the life that formed it. Her analogies are playful, emtional, acute – and gloriously unscholarly. 

What could be better than a film that shows up film criticism? Jacquot de Nantes is an edifying and sustaining pleasure, entirely in and of itself.

The film was made in the last months of Demy’s life, as he was dying of an incurable illness – and by a filmmaker with an expansive career and life behind her.

Perhaps it’s this position that allows Varda to play so nimbly and insightfully with time. The New York Times review in 1991 suggested, rather nicely, that Varda “lives in a present that is ever enriched by the accumulating past”.

Jacquot de Nantes’s two fleeting hours contain all the widsom and wit, aguish and affection of a lifetime.

This is a film that seems to give you time, rather than use it up.

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