Posted on: 19 July 2010
Agnès Varda was born in Belgium in 1928 to French and Greek parents, a dual heritage she has negotiated in much of her work. She began her career as a photographer before directing her first film, La Pointe Courte, in 1954. Shot entirely on location, using working-class subjects and synchronized sound, the film bears many stylistic similarities to later films by Godard, Rohmer, and other critics from Cahiers du cinéma, though it precedes their work by several years and was made for a fraction of even their tiny budgets. Though Varda was more directly aligned with the Rive Gauche filmmakers (including Alain Resnais, Chris Marker and her husband Jacques Demy) than she was with the Cahiers group, there were undeniable affinities between the two aesthetics, cemented in 1962 when Godard vouched for her to producer Georges Beauregard, allowing her to make her next film, Cléo from 5 to 7. From this point on, Varda became the de facto godmother of the French New Wave.
Varda would go on to make dozens of films, no two precisely alike, but all informed by her distinctively whimsical visual aesthetic, strong political conscience, and happily catholic taste in both subjects and forms. Of internationally renowned filmmakers, perhaps only Werner Herzog is as comfortable alternating fiction films with documentaries. Like Herzog, too, Varda is almost as familiar as a public figure (and as a frequent presence in her own films) as she is as a director: her engaging, grandmotherly manner can be as disarming for audiences as it is for her subjects, but it shouldn’t lead us to underestimate her immense critical and cinematic intelligence.
In the next two weeks, in coordination with the availability of a great chunk of her oeuvre on MUBI.com, we’ll be looking at an array of Varda films, beginning with Cléo from 5 to 7 and concluding with her most recent effort, 2008’s The Beaches of Agnès. In between these poles we find Varda exploring topics from the Black Power movement of the late 1960s (Black Panthers), graffiti murals (Mur murs), homelessness (first fictionally in Vagabond, and then again in her acclaimed documentary The Gleaners & I), pedophilia (Kung-fu Master!), and the childhood memories of her beloved husband Demy (Jacquot de Nantes). In all of it we find a vision of cinema that overcomes many of the standard antinomies – commercial and experimental, narrative and documentary, light and heavy, political and aesthetic – in pursuit of something at once more comprehensive and more personal.
|Cléo from 5 to 7||1962|
|One Sings, the Other Doesn’t||1977|
|Jacquot de Nantes||1991|
|One Hundred and One Nights of Simon Cinéma||1995|
|The Gleaners and I||2000|
|The Beaches of Agnès||2008|
Cléo from 5 to 71962
One Sings, the Other Doesn’t1977
Jacquot de Nantes1991
One Hundred and One Nights of Simon Cinéma1995
The Gleaners and I2000
The Beaches of Agnès2008