The Elegant Tenacity of Mag Bodard

Anne Wiazemsky’s Mag Bodard, un destin (2005)

As a tribute to Mag Bodard, the French producer who passed away on February 26 at the age of 103, the Cinémathèque française has posted an appreciation by Agnès Varda. In this salute from one diminutive dynamo to another, written in 2004 on the occasion of a Bodard retrospective at the Cinémathèque, Varda notes that Bodard’s delicate appearance, always “elegant, coiffed, manicured,” belied her tenacity. Having produced just one mildly successful feature, Norbert Carbonnaux’s The Dance (1962), featuring Françoise Dorléac in her first starring role, Bodard spent the following two years “passionately” fighting to realize Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, an unlikely hit with all its dialogue rendered in song and the winner of the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 1964. Building on that triumph, Bodard went on to work with Robert Bresson on Au hasard Balthazar (1966), Mouchette (1967), and A Gentle Woman (1969), with Jean-Luc Godard on 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967) and La Chinoise (1967), with Maurice Pialat on L'Enfance nue (1968), with Alain Resnais on Je t'aime, je t'aime (1968), and with Michel Deville, Nina Companeez, and Claude Jutra.

And of course, with Agnès Varda. Bodard and Varda made two films together, and while Le bonheur (1965) was a success, Varda freely admits that The Creatures (1966) was “a flop.” Last year, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody argued that in this underappreciated film starring Michel Piccoli and Catherine Deneuve, “Varda turns the blend of fantasy and realism into a wild science-fiction-plus-neo-realist parody of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.” Featured in a supporting role is Lucien Bodard, a renowned reporter Mag had met and married a few years before while working as a journalist in southeast Asia. When the couple returned to France, Mag began writing for France Soir and struck up an affair with the paper’s owner, Pierre Lazareff. Mag Bodard and Lazareff worked on French television’s first news magazine, Cinq colonnes à la une, and it’s when she was forced out of that project that Bodard, “a little in spite and a lot as a challenge,” as Brody translates Samuel Douhaire’s report for Telerama, that she went into the film business as a producer, “a domain at the time quasi-exclusively reserved for men.”

In his Godard biography Everything Is Cinema, Brody recounts the story of Bodard arranging the first meeting between Godard and Anne Wiazemsky. Godard had seen a photo of the young actress, all of eighteen at the time, taken on the set of Au hasard Balthazar. At Godard’s request, Bodard hosted a lunch, inviting Godard, Bresson, and Wiazemsky, who’s recalled that she was “very disagreeable” with the hotshot director. Months later, she saw Pierrot le fou (1965), and it “struck me like an artistic thunderbolt.” Thus began a partnership that would result in a series of collaborations that began with La Chinoise. In 2005, Wiazemsky paid tribute to Bodard and her role as one of the most vital networkers of the French New Wave with her hour-long television documentary Mag Bodard, un destin.

According to Douhaire, of all the films Bodard had a hand in, the one “closest to her heart” was Demy’s Donkey Skin (1970). Demy and Bodard had followed up on their hit The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), but the adaptation of Charles Perrault’s tale of a princess fending off a marriage proposal from her own father struck a chord with Bodard because in fairy tales, she said, everything that happens is unpredictable, “and that’s really what I love about life.”

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