Edited from a memorial post written by Mary Stephen a month after the passing of Cécile Decugis in June 2017:
Rohmer suggested I become an assistant editor on La Femme de l’Aviateur (so I could earn a little dough and stay in France)…When I knew that Cécile had edited A Bout de Souffle (Breathless), which is such a mythical work for cinephiles all over the world, I told Éric I would have been happy to sweep the floors for Cécile.
Cécile always maintained great gentleness with me, despite Éric’s strong remonstrations: “She’s making the other crew all cry, aren’t you scared of her?”
Then followed years of friendship, much of it at a distance. She never made me cry; on the contrary she helped me get over youthful tears whenever there was a matter of heartbreak or slight at perceived injustices to me, as a young Chinese woman fresh from Canada.
When I went to visit her for the last time, the year before she died, she brought me into the house, she gave me a DVD of her film about the demolition of the Renault plant on the island of Seguin. Earlier she had asked me for my opinion about her new film about her father, a short but emotional piece. I was very moved by this film that she was going to such great pains to finish, with the editing formats, the sound mixing…It was incredible for me and my children to see this woman at 86 or 87 keeping the faith as a filmmaker, and being able to carry on with her work almost to the end. I would have liked to be able to say a last farewell.
Never postpone until tomorrow a telephone call you could make today….
No birth date available.
Mary Stephen is a Hong Kong-born Chinese editor and filmmaker with fifty-two credits and four best editing nominations. She was Éric Rohmer’s assistant editor (working under Cecile Decugis) and then his regular editor and collaborator from 1992-2010. She edited ten of his films, including A Tale of Winter, The Lady and the Duke, until his last film, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon. Stephen has also edited numerous mainland Chinese and Hong Kong narratives and documentaries, including Li Yang’s Blind Mountain, Fan Lixin’s Last Train Home, Freddie Wong’s The Drunkard, Jessey Tsang’s Flowing Stories, Ann Hui’s Our Time Will Come and Amos Why’s Dot 2 Dot.
“Rohmer is very precise in his “constructions”. He quite often knew already what the final film should “feel” like before we cut it. He loves to use shot-countershot, therefore the “listener” becomes an active participant as well in the conversation. We always look for “interesting reactions” on the listener’s face. When he shoots a scene in shot-countershot, he shoots the scene (or fractions of it) entirely on one character at a time regardless of whether he/she is the one talking or not. I am also particularly fond of “reactions” and I think that characters reveal themselves more through their silences than what they say (which is of course a favourite theme of Rohmer’s: how people’s words often mask their true feelings). In Autumn Tale, I went much further than the previous films in looking for the listener’s reactions. Alain Libolt, who plays Gerald, is particularly wonderful when he is listening.” —“Interview with Mary Stephen” by Bill Mousoulis. The full interview can be found in the Appendix.
1934 – 2017
After making two short films, Cécile Decugis became the assistant editor to Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte on Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. She then edited Godard’s Breathless and Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (co-edited with Claudine Bouché), putting her in the same company as Agnès Guillemot, who also edited films for both directors. In 1960 she was arrested for renting an apartment to National Liberation Front militants* and spent two years in La Roquette prison. Decugis became the main editor for Éric Rohmer in 1969 and edited all his films until 1983, including My Night at Maud’s, Claire’s Knee (co-edited by Christine Lecouvette), Chloe in the Afternoon and Pauline at the Beach. She mentored Mary Stephen, who edited later Rohmer films. Decugis has thirty editing credits. In 2011, at age 77, she reworked a 1957 documentary film about Algerian refugees in Tunisia and rereleased it as Bread Distribution.
*The NLF supported the Algerian war of independence from France.
“Truffaut rarely came into the cutting room because he did not like it very much, whereas you could not imagine a film of Godard’s being edited without him being present. Rohmer was there all the time because he did not like you to work a scene or even a shot without him being present…
When we went to the first screening [of Shoot the Piano Player], Truffaut was very happy. It did not change because there were not many ways to cut it. I hate the term “first cut” because you should always be cutting to make it work. I do not think you should be doing bad cutting. After this “first cut” of course you will make some modifications. In New Wave films the cutting style was not planned in advance. They had a concept of what the style would be and they worked from a script, but they did not know in advance exactly where the cuts would be made. They would have been against being so pre-planned. This is not to say that we were going into the cutting room to find and create something new. The concept of editing was part of the whole film like the style of the shoot and the acting. The editing does not exist in isolation. Sometimes in the cutting room you discover an innovation or you put right problems with the cut. However, in general what happens in the cutting room is a reflection of the film.”
“They [Truffaut and Godard] were against conformity in French cinema. What we cut had to be as alive as possible, appearing spontaneous rather than worked out. Although often, that which appears most natural can require the most reflection. Truffaut was not so much interested in editing, rather he was interested in the idea of the film in general. He would return from a screening and say, “That particular scene is too long, you need to shorten it.” He was fantastic with the overview of the film, but he got bored working with the detail. Godard on the other hand was incredible with cutting. For him cinema defined itself by editing, for Godard cinema is editing.” —Two excerpts from an interview with Decugis in “Editing and Post-Production Screencraft” by Declan McGrath. The full interview can be found in the Appendix.
1929 – 2017
Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte’s father was from Martinique, her mother was French. She was born and raised in France, and worked primarily in that country, but maintained a close relationship with her roots in Martinique.
Yoyotte was the first black woman editor in French cinema, with seventy-four editing credits, including for Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Jean Cocteau’s The Testament of Orpheus, and three Euzhan Palcy films (Sugar Cane Alley (aka Black ShackAlley), Rues Cases Nègres and Siméon.)
Yoyotte also edited four films for Jean Rouch: La pyramide humaine, Dionysos, Portrait de Raymond Depardon and Moi, un noir (co-edited by Catherine Dourgnan). More recently she edited Microcosmos and Winged Migration, for which she won César Awards. She won her third César for Police Python 357.
Note: You can read more about the seventeen women editors who collaborated with Jean Rouch here.
“All films are unique in the editing. A film is first of all a dream…The final construction happens in the editing. I’m truly touched by all the people who want to bear witness, because it’s the job of the editor to assist those who want to have their voice heard. There is no rule in editing. There is a taste for storytelling, a taste for collaboration with someone’s dreams.”
—“Décès de la Martiniquaise Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte, monteuse talentueuse de cinema” by Cécile Baquey. The entire interview (in French) can be found in the Appendix.