You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jacques Leonard, el Payo Chac

A forgotten man and his photographs are brought back from oblivion in the fascinating docu "Jacques Leonard, el Payo Chac."

With: Alex Leonard, Santiago Leonard, Jesus Ulled. (Spanish, French, Catalan dialogue)

A forgotten man and his photographs are brought back from oblivion in the fascinating docu “Jacques Leonard, el Payo Chac.” The remarkable life story of the titular photographer, writer and adventurer is told largely through his stunning photos of the gypsy community in which he chose to live. Pic compresses enough into its short running time to merit twice its length as it touches lightly on memory and forgetfulness, the breakdown of cultural barriers and the search for one’s roots, all universal themes that should help this well-crafted, evocative item find a deserved home in fest sidebars.

In 2010, thousands of photographic negatives were rescued by Leonard’s sons Santiago and Alex, the film’s main interviewees, from boxes in the attic of the house where Leonard, a talented but private man who had cared little for marketing his considerable skills, died in 1995. (Helmer Yago Leonard is the photog’s grandson.)

Along with Leonard’s unpublished memoir, the photos tell the story of a life spent traveling the globe, working as a furniture restorer and film editor (with Abel Gance, according to one interviewee), becoming part of the Madrid intelligentsia after the Spanish Civil War, and meeting and falling in love in 1952 with Rosario Amaya, a beautiful Barcelona gypsy whom he married — and who proudly turned down an offer to pose for Salvador Dali, glimpsed in some of the photos. The development of their relationship is described via wonderfully evocative extracts from Leonard’s memoir.

Docu is structured achronologically, so that secrets from Leonard’s past are revealed only after viewers feel they’ve gotten to know him. The explanation of why he chose to marry into a community where non-gypsies are at best unwelcome reps an authentic surprise, as does another family development that yields the pic’s most emotionally intense scenes.

Footage mainly consists of reminiscences with family and friends, but the black-and-white images depicting a Romany way of life that’s now largely disappeared haunt most. Beautiful as art and invaluable as testimony, Leonard’s shots are rare period examples of photographs taken from within the community, free of the eroticizing tendencies that mar other records of gypsy people at the time. Inevitably prevalent among them are dozens of images of the striking Amaya.

The attractive flamenco-based music by Lisandro Rodriguez, sometimes jaunty and sometimes lyrical, is crucial to defining the mood. Regarding the title, “El Payo Chac” was Leonard’s gypsy name, and literally means “Chac (Jacques), the non-gypsy.”

Jacques Leonard, el Payo Chac


Production: A Curt Ficcions release of a Curt Produccions, TVC, TVE production. (International sales: Curt Produccions, Barcelona.) Executive producers, Carmen Isasa, Jordi Ambros, Andres Luque. Directed by Yago Leonard. Written by Nuria Villazan.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Carles Mestres; editor, Pau Atienza; music, Lisandro Rodriguez; sound (Dolby Digital), Marc Soldevila, Marcos Rodriguez. Reviewed at Cine Berlanga, Madrid, June 1, 2011. Running time: 61 MIN.

With: With: Alex Leonard, Santiago Leonard, Jesus Ulled. (Spanish, French, Catalan dialogue)

More Film

  • Spirit Awards Showcase Oscar Players and

    Spirit Awards Showcase Oscar Players and Also-Rans, With Heavy Hitters on Deck

    Five of the last eight best feature winners at the annual Film Independent Spirit Awards have gone on to win best picture at the Oscars, including a four-year streak from 2013-2016. It was a steadily evolving status quo that led former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences governor Bill Mechanic to question his organization’s [...]

  • Bo Burnham34th Film Independent Spirit Awards,

    Bo Burnham Wants 'Eighth Grade' Star Elsie Fisher to Direct Him

    Bo Burnham won his third award in three weeks for “Eighth Grade” at the Spirit Awards and said he wants the film’s 15-year-old Elsie Fisher to direct him. “I’d love to work with Elsie again,” Burnham said backstage after winning the Best First Screenplay trophy.  “She wants to direct so I’d love to switch roles [...]

  • Nicole Holofcener: 'Can You Ever Forgive

    Nicole Holofcener: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' Director Was Cheated Out of an Oscar Nomination

    “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” screenwriter Nicole Holofcener offered a blunt assessment of the lack of Academy Awards recognition for director Marielle Heller, and women directors everywhere. “I feel Marielle was cheated and I feel badly about that,” Holofcener said backstage after winning a Spirit Award for screenplay with Jeff Whitty. Holofcener was originally attached [...]

  • Stephan James as Fonny and Brian

    2019 Indie Spirit Awards Winners: Complete List

    The 2019 Independent Spirit Awards took place on a beach in Santa Monica, Calif., with Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” taking the top prize for best feature along with best director for Jenkins. Ethan Hawke and Glenn Close took the prizes for best male lead and best female lead, respectively. Bo Burnham took [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Hated It! How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Gripe About the Oscars

    Watching the Academy Awards telecast, then grousing about it the next day, has become a hipster parlor game — it’s what the Complete Oscar Experience now is. The complaints are legion, and we all know what they are, because we’ve all made them. The show was too long. The host bombed. His or her opening [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content