This remarkable collection of imagery intercut with selected concert footage and other clips of Aznavour at work and play is much more than a documentary about the life of the internationally adored singer; it’s an opportunity to understand something of how significant his Armenian heritage was and to look at a key period of his life through his own eyes. There’s a kind of poetry or lyricism to these visuals, especially as presented with the laconic narration written by Domenico and spoken by Romain Duris, and the saturated colour of that sixties film stock is simply beautiful to watch.
Aznavour may have been celebrated all over the world as a popular singer, but he was also a songwriter, an actor, a diplomat, a political activist and, of course, a globe-trotter who hung out with what the Sixties liked to refer to as the Jet-Set. There’s plenty of screen time for Aznavour to visit exotic locations from Japan to Africa, from New York to Montmartre and to hang out with his friends, Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Charles Trenet, Brigitte Bardot and more, but there’s also great moments with French New Wave film director, Francois Truffaut on the set of their 1960 collaboration Shoot The Piano Player.
In approaching this project, di Domenico admitted that that it’s not at all common to begin working on a film where you have the footage but don’t have the story. One of the strengths of this doco is di Domenico’s ability to get out the way of Aznavour’s cinematography and let that imagery create the story for us. In selecting and assembling the material, it seems that di Domenico has taken a light touch in where he intrudes with other footage (concerts and the like) and, most importantly, how unobtrusive the voice-over narration is.
Of course, like any ‘amateur’ film (if one dare refer to Aznavour as an ‘amateur’) there is the added authentic feel that comes with the happenstance of hand-held camera work: no planned or pre-mediated framing or tracking shots here, but that only adds to the informality of the film that allows to feel like we’re ‘inside’ rather than on the outside looking in. And there’s an added bonus too; if you take the time to look past the famous faces to the backgrounds and the crowds that fill out the film, you’ll be rewarded with the fashions and vehicles and cityscapes of eras gone by. At only 75 minutes, this is a delight that’s over too quickly, but what we get in those fleeting moments of an icon’s ‘home movies’ is a rare and enjoyable insight like no other.