Varda by Agnès


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Varda by Agnès
"A charming and playful consideration of her career." | Photo: Cine Tamaris 2018

French director Agnès Varda - arguably too long in the shadow of her male contemporaries - has been enjoying a late-career turn in the spotlight since she warmed the hearts of many a cinemagoer with her quirky Faces Places documentary, co-directed with JR. The wake of its success has seen her pick up a slew of lifetime achievement awards - including an honorary Oscar - and host a range of masterclasses, one of which I was lucky to attend recently in Marrakech.

Here she brings elements of those talks to this beefed up movie version of the same, offering a charming and playful consideration of her career, accompanied by clips of her output beginning with La Pointe Courte and running through the likes of Cleo From 5 to 7 and Vagabond before ending up with Faces Places. The film is framed by a masterclass to a packed theatre, but though it has a largely linear approach, she's smart enough to quickly open it up beyond the stage she's sitting on.

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Citing the three key tenets of her work as, "Inspiration, creation and sharing" - it's the latter desire that is most to the fore, both in terms of her work, in which she has always preferred the focus to be on others, and in the way she presents it here, with language that is accessible to everyone rather than just aimed at film academics.

Over the course of two hours, she talks about her photographic output and muses briefly on her personal relationships, as well as outlining her approach to filmmaking. In one typically playful scene, she interviews the star of Vagabond, Sandrine Bonnaire about her role in the film and her own subversion of tracking shots as the two of them are pushed along a set of camera dolly tracks under umbrellas in the rain - somehow covering technical ground while also saying she should have licked Bonnaire's blisters. Elsewhere, there's an opportunity to see Robert De Niro mangle some French and Varda address an audience of 2D seagulls.

That's the magic of Varda, whose composition is both rigorous and wryly subverted, her creative space a place where whether a goat has horns can be of the utmost importance, potatoes can mirror a triptych and where redundant film can be turned given fresh life as an installation. She uses editing techniques to illustrate some of her points but there are also delightful asides, such as when we see her chatting with children about a film that shows the construction of a tomb to her cat.

This has been mooted has her final film but I suspect rumours of her retirement are greatly exaggerated - as this film shows, there's plenty of inspiration and creativity left in the nonagenarian yet, let's hope she decides to go on sharing it with the rest of us.

Addendum: Like critics around the world, I was very sorry to hear of Varda's death on March 29, 2019, I'm only sorry this was to be her final film after all.

Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2019
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A masterclass from the French filmmaker.
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Director: Agnès Varda

Writer: Agnès Varda

Year: 2019

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: France

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