Behind Jean-Luc Godard’s Shades: Agnès Varda’s Ways Of Seeing

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”