Saturday, 16 April 2016

On Raymond Devos

The French (technically Belgian) performer Raymond Devos (1922-2006) was an odd fish - 'uninonewordutterable' as Ben Jonson put it, in a formulation that Devos himself would have admired. Devos is best known (although not well-known) outside the Francophone world for his appearance in a  single scene towards the end of Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 masterpiece Pierrot le Fou.

The set up: Belmondo is in pursuit of Anna Karina and arrives at a ramshackle quayside where Devos is sitting, murmuring to himself. What follows hardly needs subtitles, and is sublime. Belmondo can barely keep a straight fave and Devos quietly, magnificently, assumes complete command of the scene and, by extension, the whole film. Watch it, and then watch it again, here. It's a marvellous example of what French film critics call temps mort - a moment when, as it were, the movie stops for a while and any plot is suspended to follow some utterly irrelevant digression, or reflection, or some other business that has nothing much to do with the story We don't get may of these moments in today's hyperkinetic blockbusters.

You may also be startled by Devos' astonishingly close resemblance to the art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon. Are they by any chance related?

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