At the Berlin Film Festival where she presented her documentary “Varda by Agnès”, New Wave filmmaker Agnès Varda said she was “slowing down” and “getting ready to say goodbye”. She announced that she would no longer lecture or interview one-on-one.
A movie to say goodbye
“I’ve done a lot of lectures everywhere, at universities, film schools, all kinds of places, festivals, even small film clubs, and I thought I should do a movie now that’s like a conference, “she explained. This film is “a way to say goodbye, because I do not want to talk about my films anymore”, added the director, stating that “now, she would not accept to lecture anymore” or “to give interviews in head-to-head”.
“Women have conquered the field of cinema”
Cats, strange vegetables, street art, foraged food, feminism and playful ironic self-reflection: these things are at the heart of Instagram culture, but Agnès Varda, the veteran French-Belgian documentary-maker, was filming them years ago. Although the grande dame of the French New Wave, it’s now at the age of 90, and with the superb Faces Places, that her legacy is being fully rediscovered. A touring cinema programme and a Curzon Home release of some of her early work is bringing her to wider attention.
Varda’s later-life documentaries are personal and playful, an older woman looking back at a life of curiosity amid major social change. The Gleaners and I (2000), in which she riffs on the traditional French idea of those who scavenge after harvests, gets all the attention. For me, it’s The Beaches of Agnès (2008) that’s the magical one.
In it, Varda reflects on her love of seaside locations, and uses the beaches of her youth as a backdrop for restaging memories of love and loss while playing games and pondering creativity. Mixing archive clips, observational material, constructed fantastical sequences and to-camera reminiscences, she roams the country, musing on interesting random encounters.
One moment she’s sailing down the Seine; the next, she’s walking around dressed as a potato in her own art exhibition. It could be twee, this national treasure having fun with her memories. But Varda is sharp and no pushover. She has strong opinions on being an artist, on feminism, on the need for culture-makers to depict the working class with dignity, and on the importance of film-makers and artists being part of social change [ . . . ]
Elsa Court unpicks the cinematic relationship between Agnès Varda and Jean-Luc Godard. With her new film, Faces, Places, in UK cinemas soon, and a retrospective currently on screen at the BFI Southbank, a reassessment of the often marginalised Varda feels more vital than ever
”L’art du cinema consiste à faire faire de jolies choses à de jolies femmes” – the art of cinema consists in having pretty women do pretty things. This quote, from Francois Truffaut, was how I chose to open my lecture – the last of four taught on the directors of the French New Wave at the Department of Continuing Education at Oxford University last autumn – on Agnès Varda. I had decided to save Varda for last, and Truffaut’s quote, frequently remembered in the wealth of critical writing on the French New Wave, seemed to me a good entrée en matière to discussing the postfeminist narrative of Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962).
So far into the course, I had approached the movement according to its standard historical – and therefore predominantly male – perspective, placing the films of Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Alain Resnais within their cultural context in postwar France, stressing the way in which the young, anti-orthodox filmmakers simultaneously called for a reassessment of cinema as art and for a relaxing of the rules of filmmaking. By the end of the day, I had yet to discuss the New Wave’s inclusion of women and its representations of gender relations, which jarred with the movement’s professed radical attitudes towards both film and the changing landscape of France’s society and culture. My lecture on Varda deliberately approached her work through the perspective of her uniquely playful, even generous redressing of the codes of female representation within the movement and in French cinema in the broader sense. Continue reading “Behind Jean-Luc Godard’s Shades: Agnès Varda’s Ways Of Seeing”