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Songs of Innocence and Experience: An Open Letter to Jacques Demy

Jacques Demy

Inspired by Camille’s [a fan] open letter to Demy which bookends the Agnès Varda documentary L’Univers de Jacques Demy’.

Dear Monsieur Demy,

There are many directors who I’ve admired throughout my time as a cinephile though none have resonated as strongly as you. I vividly recall the first time I watched one of your films – it was a grey, sultry day in January 2016 when Les Parapluies de Cherbourg first brought colour into my humdrum life.

The musical has been my most cherished genre since I was a young boy; watching Mary Poppins and  The Wizard of Oz. These formative viewings instilled in me the belief that life would be more pleasant if people sung their feelings. In Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, you took this philosophy to sublime heights, leaving me enchanted from the first line of recitative dialogue until the last. It’s a cliché to say that a film ‘took your breath away’ however Cherbourg did just that. For months, I was possessed by recollections of Guy and Geneviève’s doomed loved affair, especially the contrast between their wistful reality and the otherworldly artifice of your cinematic universe. The only film to break Cherbourg’s spell was Les Demoiselles de Rochefort.

In a twist of fate straight out of one of your films, the Melbourne Arthouse theatre Cinema Nova programmed screenings of both the aforementioned films in June 2016. Watching the 2014 restoration of Cherbourg (previously I’d seen the 1990s restoration on DVD) on the big screen was divine but even more stirring was watching Rochefort for the first time.  In that film, I was granted a complete vision of what my romantic ideal of cinema entails- a poignant blend of Joyous/Melancholy, defined as a state of being in which boundless despair and buoyant optimism coexist seamlessly. The only other film to nail this vast gulf of emotion is Peter Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed which to me plays out like an American translation of Rochefort. Critics often accuse your characters of having shallow aspirations, yet to me they couldn’t be more soulful. Each chance encounter between them is so incredibly delicate. Infact, the simple recollection of Andy and Solange’s first meeting outside Boubou’s school and their subsequent reconciliation in Monsieur Dame’s music store is enough to bring a tears to my eyes and cause my heart to skip a beat. These are the kind of celestial encounters I can only dream of having someday.

Your films serve as a constant reminder that “life may be sad but it’s always beautiful”. Each time I watch one of them, I feel wholly enlivened and encouraged to embrace every facet of existence. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Monsieur Demy  for teaching these valuable lessons.

Love eternally,

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