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Jean-Pierre Mocky,the most unclassifiable French director,is dead

He was much more than the big mouth that TV channels loved to invite to their sets to stimulate debates on cinema or society. He was perhaps the most inventive, the most prolific, the most anarchist of French directors. He saved, in his time, the honor of popular comic cinema. He was the one and indefatigable inventor of a sort of national B series. Its place in the history of cinema has been singular, both in the center and in the margins, without these qualities being at home contradictory, but on the contrary cumulative, confused. It was a living paradox. Jean-Pierre Mocky died on Thursday, August 8, at the age of 90, announced his family.

His date of birth is already quite a novel. His real name Jean-Paul, he was born in Nice on July 6, 1933, parents of Polish emigrants. The father is Jewish, the Catholic mother. Some biographies indicate 1929 as the date of birth, his father having aged him to allow him to travel alone, he claims.

As a child, he made an appearance as appearing in Marcel Carné's Les Visiteurs du soir , in 1942, shot in part at the Victorine studios in Nice. Begins for him, after the war, a prolific activity of appearing then of secondary roles in the French cinema of the 1950s ( Orphée , of Jean Cocteau, The Paradise of the lost pilots , of Georges Lampin, Red is put , of Gilles Grangier; The Gorilla greets you well , Bernard Borderie).

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Jean-Pierre Mocky, in 2016. JOEL SAGET/AFP

Encouraged by Pierre Fresnay, he took classes with Louis Jouvet at the Conservatoire d'art dramatique in Paris. His handsome face could have made him an authentic young first, but the French cinema of that time lives on the glory of the stars of the past (Jean Gabin, Fernandel, Pierre Fresnay) and does not know what to do with most of his new actors. He tried his luck in Italy and Antonioni perhaps entrusted him with the most important role of his acting career in his sketch Without Love in The Vanquished ( I Vinti ), in 1953.

First feature film in 1959



The desire has just come to realization, including, he says, because his future as a comedian seems clogged. His first film should have been, in 1958, The Head against the Walls , which he wrote the scenario, poignant narrative adapted from a novel by Hervé Bazin, located in a psychiatric asylum. Suspicious, the producers impose a more experienced director. It is finally Georges Franju who will sign the film, but Mocky will claim all his life a very active part in its realization and will integrate it systematically in his filmography.

In 1959, he wrote his first feature film, Les Dragueurs , telling the story of the drift of two men, played by Jacques Charrier and Charles Aznavour, in search of women to seduce in the streets of Paris. The freedom of tone of the film, its secret romanticism, the choice of a vaguely autobiographical "little subject" could have put it on the side of the New Wave filmmakers, most of them from his generation. In the same vein, in 1960, A Couple , on a screenplay by Raymond Queneau and, in 1963, Les Vierges , on the subject, then considered scabrous, of the virginity of young girls, conceived as a kind immediately Draguers .

But Mocky will find his way, a very personal way, by performing comedies marked by the seal of the strange, the buffoonery and social satire, attacking the institutions. In Snobs , in 1962, he attacked the bourgeoisie vitriol through the story of a succession at the head of an industrial dairy. In The Companions of the Daisy , in 1967, he imagines employees of the town hall in the civil registry falsifying the marriage certificates to avoid the heaviness of the divorce proceedings.

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Jean-Pierre Mocky, in 2002, in the cinema Le Brady, which he had acquired, in Paris.

This is the moment when he begins to surround himself, for his second shots, improbable faces and actors with unconventional play (Jean-Claude Remoleux, Jean Abeille, Roger Legris, Rudy Lenoir). He hires Bourvil to give him the lead in a movie about church looters, A Funny Parishioner , in 1963. That's success. He finds the actor in La Grande Lessive (!) In 1968, denouncing addiction on television, and in L'Etalon , in 1970, where he plays a matchmaker providing lovers to wives abandoned by their husbands.

The Gaullist censorship, worried, is sometimes interested in him, but the public, delighted to see his favorite stars in unusual roles and cheering games of massacre, rushes to see his films. Fernandel will play in The Exchange and Life (1966), which Marcel Aymé will write the dialogues. Mocky disturbs the mechanisms of Saturday night comedy by rejecting all naturalism in the game of comedians, by adorning them with tics and manic behavior, mixing stars of the genre and unknown to the game for the least offbeat. The comic with the French leaves, thanks to him, of its limits. It becomes trivial, political and aggressive.

Disillusionment

With Solo , directed in 1969, in which he takes the lead role, he inaugurates a series of romantic, pure and moving black films produced by post-sixty-eight deception. It embodies itself a kind of gooder, it escaped the run ( Albatros , 1971), journalist denouncing scandals ( A shroud has no pockets , in 1974), professor disillusioned leftist ( The Cons trap , in 1979), vomiting the society of its time by attacking bourgeois and politicians. All this might sound a little crude and candid, but the Mocky style is not bothered by half-measures or psychological likelihoods. He intends to strike hard and quickly and make a spectator gloat at the invitation of an insolent spectacle of grotesque and hideous puppets.

Not surprising, moreover, that the taste of the weird that regularly appeared in his films has pushed him to address (and he will be one of the few French filmmakers to engage in it with conviction) the fantastic. The City of the Unspeakable Fear , in 1964, is an adaptation of a novel by Jean Ray. Litan: The City of Green Spectra , in 1982, is a marvel of invention and poetic and chilling anxiety with his mourning couple lost in a mountain village populated by disturbing inhabitants.

Jean-Luc Godard offers him a small role in First Name Carmen , in 1983, then that of one of the main characters, a film producer, in The size and decadence of a small movie business , in 1986. After a series of commercial failures, Mocky finds success in 1982 with Is there a Frenchman in the room? , according to a novel by Frédéric Dard.

The most prominent actors of the French cinema do not hate to make a turn in the world of the filmmaker. Philippe Noiret and Alberto Sordi ( The Witness , in 1978); Jeanne Moreau ( The Miracle , in 1987); Catherine Deneuve, to whom he offers an unusual role in making an old girl, curly hair librarian, in Agent trouble , the same year; Jane Birkin and Sabine Azéma ( Black as the memory , in 1995); Michel Serrault, who became a follower of Mocky's films.

Huge productivity

The film critic Serge Daney sees in him "a filmmaker of the trait, an excellent draftsman who films as one" crunches ": a tirade, an action, a silhouette" . His cinema becomes more and more unleashed, uninhibited and does not disdain the joyfully anticlerical farce ( Le Miraculé , in 1987) and saucy ( The Seasons of pleasure , in 1988). In his world, he enlists unexpected characters, such as the singer Nino Ferrer ( Litan: The City of the Green Spectra , in 1982), television host Patrick Sébastien ( The Pactole , in 1985) or rocker Dick Rivers ( La Candide Madame Duff , in 2000, the Furet , in 2003).

His bulimia begins to make him suspect of casualness, even of-I-foutism. "Cinema is sometimes successful, sometimes it is not; it is not worth to believe that the more successful by putting millions " , he will admit in an interview with Cahiers du Cinéma in 1987. Mocky has also become a media figure, grumpy and vitupérateur, regularly invited on TV sets to give his opinion.

Yet, since the failure of One Night in the National Assembly in 1988, the times had become harder for him and his cinema. Financiers are becoming more and more reluctant. The public sulks. Criticism lets him go. In 1994 he acquired a room in Paris, Le Brady, where he could show his films.

Between 2007 and 2009, the television channel 13th  Street commissioned short films for a series called Myster Mocky présente , on the model of the series created by Alfred Hitchcock. In 2011, he sold Le Brady to buy Action Schools, which he named Le Desperado.

As if stung by a context that has become more difficult for him, Mocky multiplies the films and manufactures them at an infernal rate, to the point that it was also complicated to follow the last part of his career. He has built a totally self-sufficient mechanism, producing, distributing, exploiting works shot at full speed and not corresponding to any genre or at all at the same time. Since the system no longer wants its cinema, Mocky will dispense with the system and taunt him by its excessive productivity.

All that can generate a story and lend to laughter or indignation is belly: political scandals ( Vidange , 1998); euthanasia ( The Beast of Mercy in 2001); tourism ( Tourists? Oh yes!, in 2004), household indebtedness ( Crédits pour tous , in 2011), defamation as a political weapon ( Calomnies , in 2014), etc. The shoots are fast, the results are uneven, but the energy is still there. She will always be there. Until the end.

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