Faces Places

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Faces, Places
"Whether she is probing at the ideas of the ties that bind us to a home or considering the morality of goat horns, she constantly nudges us to move around and, perhaps, get a better view."

Watching the then 88-year-old director Agn├Ęs Varda be raced at speed in a wheelchair through the Louvre by French photographer and artist JR, her 33-year-old helper leaping parkour-style in the air at regular intervals as she reaches out to various pieces of art, is a perfect moment of joie de vivre. It also, like much in this film, encourages us not to think about art solely as a framed object stuck forever on the wall in a stuffy museum but as something that can be enjoyed in different ways and contexts and which, importantly, relies heavily on the way the viewer approaches it.

The pair, the documentary quickly tells us as its quirky outset, had long been admirers of one another's work and, for this particular project, have decided to travel the byroads of France to create large artworks within communities. This may be the surface 'story' of the film, but folded in among the people that they meet - and who use JR's mobile camera van to produce enormous likenesses of themselves that will then be pasted on everything from house walls to shipping containers - is a love letter to Varda herself.

Copy picture

"Each face tells a story," she says, and we meet some of them here. These are the sort of people who take centre stage the least frequently in films - everyday workers, wives or people who just happened to pass through the photobooth because they live nearby - but they are also the sort of people who are close to Varda and JR's hearts and give truth the old adage that "everyone has a tale to tell".

The super-sized photos JR creates encourage their subjects to consider themselves and their communities in a different way, showing a direct link between art and emotional impact. We're encouraged to see the world as Varda literally sees it from time to time - blurred and jostling as she suffers from eye disease - but also to consider her more figurative 'way of seeing'. Whether she is probing at the ideas of the ties that bind us to a home or considering the morality of goat horns, she constantly nudges us to move around and, perhaps, get a better view. JR is the secondary character here, but his observations, live-wire personality and art are a crucial part of their double-act and, let's face it, it's almost inevitable that any octogenarian will have more to offer in terms of anecdote than a thirtysomething.

Despite the deep philosophical undercurrent, this is a warmly accessible film, which reaches out and pulls you towards it, although Jean-Luc Godard fans may want to approach with care - he's likely to go down in your estimations, if not as a filmmaker, then certainly as a person after viewing this. Faces Places is nostalgic - "There's nothing ugly about beginnings" - without being regressive or overly sentimental, allowing room for melancholy to manoeuvre while quietly celebrating the positivity of possibility.

Reviewed on: 15 Dec 2017
Share this with others on...
Faces Places packshot
The director and photgrapher travel through France as their friendship blossoms.

Director: Agnès Varda, JR

Year: 2017

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: France


Search database: