"She made every subject her own"

Michal Aviad remembers Agnès Varda

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Agnès Varda at her 2017 Blum & Poe exhibition in New York
Agnès Varda at her 2017 Blum & Poe exhibition in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

When I arrived at the Washington Square Hotel on Waverly Place in the Village for my conversation with Michal Aviad, the director of Working Woman, it was the day after the passing of Agnès Varda on Friday, March 29. I had contacted Agnès for a tribute honouring Michel Legrand, who died just two months earlier, and she immediately responded with her memories of him with Jacques Demy and sent personal photos from the set of Demoiselles De Rochefort with Catherine Deneuve.

We discussed Faces Places (Visages Villages), Vagabond, Le Lion Volatil, Varda Par Agnès, and why Les Glaneurs Et La Glaneuse (The Gleaners And I) is Michal's favourite.

Michal Aviad on the difference between Agnès Varda and Jean-Luc Godard: "You see what a lively, alive person she is. And what kind of an old grump - sorry to say - he is."
Michal Aviad on the difference between Agnès Varda and Jean-Luc Godard: "You see what a lively, alive person she is. And what kind of an old grump - sorry to say - he is." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: Agnès Varda died on Friday.

Michal Aviad: I know! I just wrote a post.

AKT: What is her importance for you? Do you have a favourite film of hers?

MA: Listen, first of all, I loved her. Second, I met her very briefly and she was humble and nice and sweet. Third, it's amazing but I still look again at her films and I teach her films. I'm also a university professor. My favourite film - I don't know if it's my favourite film - but it's my favourite film for teaching, is Les Glaneurs Et La Glaneuse.

AKT: The Gleaners And I.

MA: The Gleaners And I! What I think is amazing about it is that it really deals with all the things that we basically … You know the film?

AKT: Yes I do. I love it.

MA: All the things that we leave behind and don't give importance to. And in some way it also says something really fundamental about documentary filmmaking. About the fact that documentaries many times, I hope, deal with the leftovers. The little unimportant things.

AKT: That aren't unimportant at all.

MA: Exactly.

AKT: That are what life is about.

MA: Exactly. And the way she was able - I just thought about it - it's 20 years old, this film - and she was dealing with ageing in that film in a way that I haven't seen before. And I thought to myself yesterday when she died that she's lucky that she died this way. That she just presented a film a month ago. Unlike many of the people we know, she didn't go into years of dementia or who knows what.

Agnès Varda in Les Glaneurs Et La Glaneuse (The Gleaners And I)
Agnès Varda in Les Glaneurs Et La Glaneuse (The Gleaners And I)

AKT: When Michel Legrand died, she sent me a remembrance of him in French, with photos. It was perfect. I just had to translate it and put it up and it was so lovely.

MA: When was that?

AKT: At the end of January this year.

MA: Wow, just over a month ago.

AKT: She wrote beautifully about him being reunited with Jacques Demy, travelling across the big transporter bridge, quoting the Demoiselles De Rochefort.

MA: So you really knew her?

AKT: I wouldn't go that far. We were in e-mail contact. I was at her place a few times and met the cats.

MA: Also when you think about it, in her film, what is it called? The one with this artist [JR], just a year ago?

AKT: Faces Places.

MA: You can really see the difference between her and Godard. You see what a lively, alive person she is. And what kind of an old grump - sorry to say - he is. Before she died, I don't know why, I looked again at Vagabond. And trying to look at it with perspective, even today, it's like marvellous, marvellous.

AKT: Even the shorts, Le Lion Volatil, for instance, where she turned the statue of the Lion of Belfort into her cat. She made every subject her own. That's what I so much appreciated.

MA: Totally.

Coming up - Michal Aviad on Working Woman.

Working Woman is in cinemas in the US.

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