Chantal Poupaud, who grew up in the shadow of Chateau de Brissac, in Maine-et-Loire, had two sons, Yarol and Melvil. They’re like her; the best that France can produce in terms of creativity, charm, curiosity, humanity, and freshness. Yarol, a spry 50-something, and Melvil, a little less than five years his junior, reminisce on a Sunday afternoon in a suite at the Hôtel Montalembert. They spent the New Year in Thailand, not in the same place, and fortunately, quite some distance from the most recent tropical storm.
You’ve doubtless seen their mother in one of her most celebrated productions. The television series “Tous les Garçons et les Filles de leur âge”, produced by Arte in the 1990s, was one of the most sensitive and truthful reflections of adolescence, especially at that time. Sadly, it hasn’t had many re-runs. Yarol says, “The soundtrack was amazing: the Beatles, the Stones, the Clash, the Bee Gees, Bob Marley. Incredible and sumptuous. But after it was first broadcast it was impossible to renegotiate the rights and so there’s no DVD available for today’s teenagers.” The series inspired one of Téchiné’s best films, Wild Reeds. That’s saying something.
Despite the charms of Maine-et-Loire and the allure of Anjou, as a young woman Chantal Poupaud very quickly wanted to head to Paris. There she met many people from the world of cinema, music and literature. She became friends with Marguerite Duras, a central figure of that period. And it was she who first had the idea of inviting radio, television and media representatives onto film sets, to bring the films to life in the imaginations of their future audiences. A great idea.
It was Duras, then, shooting her famous India Song, who opened doors for her. And on the weekend, Chantal would go to the writer’s house at Neauphle-le-Château, with her two sons, Yarol and Melvil. In Duras’ son, Outa’s bedroom, Yarol found a guitar and with Chuck Berry on the turntable, began to strum. He never stopped. Later he bought a Rickenbaker from a friend of his mother, the guitarist in Shakin’ Street. And above all, his days were dedicated to learning everything there was to know about strings (acoustic or electric) and much more besides. “I tried out everything with strings,” Yarol says. “A little bit of accordion as well. The piano, but not much. And the drums of course.” Why of course? “Because it’s indispensable for a rock musician.” And Melvil, the official biographer of Yarol, explains, “He knows every nuance of pickin’. One day he wanted to take lessons with a very good teacher and after two days the teacher said to him - stop – you know more than me. So,” the younger brother adds, “I also played. I am the official bassist of the Black Minous (their family and friends’ project). As soon as I can, I’ll join them for Yarol’s tour for his solo album.” Yarol (official biographer of his brother) adds, “Melvil plays and writes as well. This time, he’s on three tunes on my album.”
Yarol was one of the first children to officially bear that name. “My father wanted me to be linked directly to his love of science fiction, especially Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001. For him, I was Yarol the Venusian, the musician. The clerk at the mayor’s office said, “Out of the question.” So on my birth certificate my name is Stanislas. Only that clerk in the mayor’s office knows it. I have been Yarol for 50 years and since then there have been quite a few other Yarols.” The father in question they saw for a weekend every fortnight after he and Chantal separated. An avid reader, he would have never believed at the time that his sons would make a living through music and cinema. Chantal yes, since she had plenty of friends who were able to live off their art...just about. And who were happy. “At the same time,” says Melvil, “when we run into Luchini, he only talks about our father.” When Fabrice was still just a junior stylist in a trendy salon, Chantal spotted him imitating James Brown whilst sweeping up the hair on the floor. She invited him to dinner with her husband, who introduced him to a certain Céline. “He’s never forgotten.” The next time Luchini takes me to the “end of night”, I’ll think about the father of Yarol and Melvil.
The death of Elvis Presley in 1977 was a huge shock for the young Yarol who was still learning the guitar. Melvil says, “We watched all those Elvis films back to back. The good and the bad.” (Yarol: “ There was always one song you could salvage”.) “When I was just a little kid, I used to ask my brother, who’s stronger, Superman or Presley?” It’s not hard to guess what the elder Poupaud’s response was. The two boys were immersed in cinema not only through their mother but also by their grandfather, who made 8mm and then Super 8 films during the holidays, with scripts written for the young actors. There was even a film about the legendary Kopa, directed by said grandfather, who had been a sports journalist when Kopa was playing for Angers, where the future Rennes and Real Madrid star got his start. A friend of Chantal’s, Raoul Ruiz, the fabulous Portuguese director, would have Melvil perform in his films from the age of ten; indeed, he would go on to act in fifteen of his films. “It was really weird for a kid of my age. I performed in a film where every ten years I came back to murder my family. Apparently it didn’t leave too much of an impression on me. Ruiz’s poetic surrealism makes you read and helps you discover things. In the same film I played both Pinocchio and Pinochet.” Yarol adds : “Even when you took on unexpected projects, you’ve always known how to bring them back to you, to make something that only belonged to you.” To date Melvil has appeared in 75 films and series, almost all of them interesting, even exceptional.
The latest Ozon film, released in February, By the Grace of God, about pedophile priests in Lyon (a great film – one of the greatest of his films – with a remarkable performance by Melvil) has intersected with the actor’s own long-standing, deep and rich spiritual engagement. Yarol says, “Your conversations with the old priest you met when you were getting married lit something in you.” I love the calm, contented, smiling simplicity with which Melvil describes his journey. Boris and Edwin, my trusty companions from Exhibition are, as I am, hanging on every word, every blink, every look. “We weren’t baptized,” says Melvil. “I’m still not - though I nearly was. Father Bouceau, who I met at Saint Augustin, was astonished by my desire to understand and to learn. He sat me down with a glass of red and some crisps.” (“Funny kind of Eucharist,” smiles Yarol.) “He said to me, we’ve got time for the baptism’. When I was filming by the Dead Sea I saw a whole lamb, one day, incrusted in salt. That troubled me. I’m fascinated by all of that, and by the study of Jewish religious texts and commentaries. I speak a lot with a young Rabbi, a passionate Dylanophile, like me. And then, recently, I was troubled to find out from the actual person I play in Ozon’s film, who remained a Catholic despite everything that happened in Lyon, had recently had a sudden revelation in the street —the absolute revelation, he said, that God does not exist. Everything crumbled.” For his part, Melvil has gone down the opposite road. Yarol too, in his own way, is starting from zero. Hungrily.
The trajectory of Yarol the Musician is a glorious, exuberant adventure. As a young man he was spotted on a dance floor. “‘Hi, I’m a casting agent. Oh yeah? I’m casting feet, for a shoe brand!’ Footloose and fancy free! “‘Waiting my turn, I ran into Marco Prince, a star at the Palace and already the leader of the FFF. I soon joined them. Then, with FFF, we supported Johnny (Halliday) at the Stade de France, the year when he had to cancel a concert because of the downpour. The next one, which was also in the rain, is the stuff of legend. Later, I acted with Johnny for Jean- Philippe, the film. Then one night, after jamming together for fun between two takes, at about two in the morning, Johnny called me : ‘I think you’re good, come on tour with me.’ The next day the boss’s people said: ‘Johnny’s decided.’” Yarol joined them and he never left; he became lead guitarist and musical director. Melvil : “You gave him back that smile he had when he first followed his passion. The taste of an eternal beginning returned.”
Today, Yarol has just released his solo album – accomplished, rich, a stunning musical tonic. “I have to develop as a writer,” says the young man of fifty years of age, impressed and inspired by Biolay’s seriousness and apparent detachment. He likes the duo Benjamin and Melvil formed for their Song Book tour which revisited all genres of music. Melvil is still striving to create, never forgetting the impression Rohmer’s screenplays made on him when he was starting out (A Summer’s Tale). “You give Brando a screenplay by Rohmer and at the other corner of the globe, you see the film and you say : it’s written by Rohmer. He makes his mark.”
The two brothers continue to see each other often, to live close to each other, to write songs and perform together, and to spend a lot of time with their mother, Chantal (this evening they are going round to hers to enjoy a Galette des Rois for Twelfth Night). Their company is enjoyable. Their music is good. Their cinema is astounding. Their lives are authentic, curious, rich and vibrant. Chantal’s two reeds are adults who have not forgotten how to be wild.