Jean-Pierre Mocky, a fiercely independent French filmmaker whose dozens of movies gleefully skewered what he saw as society’s vices and hypocrisies, died Aug. 8 at his home in Paris. He was 90.
His son, actor and theater director Stanislas Nordey, said the cause was renal failure.
Mocky was a contemporary of French New Wave directors François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, a longtime friend. Like them, he relied on inexpensive equipment and swift shooting schedules. But his films, unlike theirs, were decidedly more grindhouse than art house. He subverted the perceived sophistication of French cinema and made unapologetically raw films that could alienate critics but draw audiences.
A statement by President Emmanuel Macron called Mocky “an eternal provocateur,” praised his “irreverent glance,” and noted his enduring “anger, indignation and revolt.”
Disdaining studio support, Mocky churned out low-budget movies on a tight schedule. He made nearly 70 feature-length films, many of which he wrote, acted in, and tried to finance on his own.
He could be a firebrand on French talk shows, given to tirades against social injustice and the film industry. For a time he owned a theater in Paris, where he would show his films when other movie houses would not.
His films fit no one category. They included satires, farces, and thrillers, all of which could push the boundaries of good taste. They assailed religion, government, romantic relationships, and other social institutions and conventions.
“I make the films no one else wants to make,” Mocky told Agence France-Presse in 2000.
French stars like Catherine Deneuve, Charles Aznavour, Jeanne Moreau, and Bourvil all appeared in Mocky’s movies. Michel Serrault, best known for his role in the original film version of “La Cage aux Folles,” was in many of them.
The first of Mocky’s films, “Les Draguers” (1959), starred Jaques Charrier and Aznavour as young men searching for romance in Paris. The film was released in the United States as “The Chasers.”
The film “gives a viewer a sharp and lucid illustration of Paris’ frustrated and footloose youth seeking love and roots,” A.H. Weiler wrote in a review in The New York Times in 1960. But, he added, “it makes little or no effort to show cause or effect or to solve their dilemmas.”
Mocky’s other notable films include “À Mort L’Arbitre!” (“Death to the Referee!”), from 1984, in which a gang of irate soccer fans attacks a referee and his girlfriend after a match; and “Le Miraculé” (“The Miracle”), released in 1987, about a scammer who pretends to be miraculously healed by holy waters at Lourdes.
That film “represented the kind of lowbrow, spectacularly vulgar farce that the French love but hardly ever export,” Dave Kehr wrote in the Chicago Tribune.
He added, “ ‘Le Miraculé’ isn’t what anyone would call a ‘good’ film — with its endless scatological jokes, wild overacting, and almost hysterical satirical excess, it’s determined to avoid any form of approval or respectability — but it is trash of a high order.”
Mocky was born Jean-Paul Mokiejewski on July 6, 1929, in Nice, France, to Adam Mokiejewski and Jeanne Zylinska. His father was Jewish, his mother Roman Catholic, and both had immigrated from Poland. His father, fearing his son would be persecuted as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France, sent him to live in Algeria during World War II. (Nordey said that a widely circulated story that his father was actually born in 1933 but had claimed to be older was incorrect.)
Mocky studied at the Conservatoire National d’Art Dramatique in Paris and began acting in films in the 1940s, taking the name Jean-Pierre Mocky. He decided to become a director after working as an assistant to Italian directors Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti in the 1950s, Nordey said.
As an actor Mocky appeared in, among other films, Godard’s “The Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company” (1986) and Mathieu Demy’s “Americano” (2011).
In addition to Nordey, his survivors include two other sons, Frederic and Marc; and a daughter, Olivia.
Mocky’s films were often technically poor in quality, but viewers and some critics still responded to their manic energy and spirit. Variety praised one singular flourish in his madcap 2003 crime thriller, “Le Furet” (“The Ferret”): “You’ve got to admire a film in which an imposing drug dealer is felled by a shot aimed from the cold cuts inside a giant sandwich — which the killer eats with pragmatic gusto after the hit.”