& How to Watch Them:
Faces Places (2017): Agnes Varda and French photography muralist JR travel around France in a truck that doubles as a giant printer, taking large format photos of people without power and plastering them on enormous buildings. It’s very French, very lovable, very moving and the perfect antidote to the current state of affairs.
Le Pointe Courte (1955): (Un)Officially the first film in the French New Wave. Varda captures the rocky nature of love against the naturalistic backdrop of a small fishing village. Her training as a street photographer meets performances from Silvia Monfort and Philippe Noiret from the Théâtre National Populaire. All other performers are local non-actors. The story naturally evolves through Varda's lensing of the community. This is la nouvelle vague.
Le Bonheur (1965): Called "Happiness" in it's US release, this film compresses Varda's participation in the international feminist movement. It dissects the very roles of wife, mother, and lover while showing how the women playing these roles remain purely interchangeable to the men they play them for.
Vagabond (1985): Contrasted with her previous work, in this film Varda takes the woman out of all of her pre-assumed social roles and puts her on the streets, literally, as a dead body. The film works backwards to build the identity of the female drifter.
Agnes Varda: From Here to There (2011): An episodic docu-essay on life and art following Varda through her world of fine art and cinema as rooted in her very home. It is a story about rebirth and reinvention, about the artist constantly rising out of her own ashes.
Black Panthers aka Huey (1968): This short documents the Oakland Black Panther party's protests against the incarnation of their founder Huey P. Newton. Varda builds such empathy and compassion while fully observing the struggles faced by the Panther community. Her cameras show the strength and beauty of Black Power because she clearly connects to the people she interviews.
Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961): Just do yourself the favor and watch it. Forget everything you learned in film school and just take it in. Life is too short not to.
Le petit amour (1988): In true vérité style Varda used this film to capture the actual coming of age of her son, Mathieu Demey, who at the time was 14 years old. Directed over the course of a summer vacation from a lose script written by actress/friend Jane Birkin, the film also features Birkin's own daughters, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon. Do all women fall in love with a boy? Truly, we might.
The Beaches of Agnes (2008): An introspective autobiographical documentary about Varda as an 80 year old woman. How rare, to see the world through the eyes of a woman at all, let alone one who lives with such depth and curiosity.
Ma Chérie Agnès Varda,
I ached for your presence, unknowingly, through tedious film history courses deliberately focused on men. I knew that something, someone, remained absent. When finally I discovered you for the first time I saw myself speaking back to me from the screen. I felt whole, connected to the womb of my own inheritance as a filmmaker.
Seeing through your photographic eye the subtle, truthful moments between people convinced me that film acting must never just play pretend. You bring a documentarian’s observant curiosity to every narrative moment, as in your first feature Le Pointe Courte. Laced with feminist activism, your films address the very nature of the woman’s experience - showcased by the feminine role in Le Bonheur and in defiance of it in Vagabond.
Life calls to me through your lens. I drink in every frame, be it the tree reborn out your window in Agnes Varda: From Here to There or the uprising of the beautiful Black Panthers (aka Huey). You love life’s magic and mysteries. In Cleo from 5 to 7 when Corinne Marchand scoops up the little black kitten in her all-white apartment. Or in Le petit amour (aka Kung Fu Master!) as Jane Birkin stares blankly into the ocean of her own existence. Oh, and the mirrors! Such relief! A momentary reflection on inner life captured so simply that we can see into the conversations we have with ourselves. You even turn the mirror inward, revealing, questioning, inspecting the woman behind the camera and the very nature of cinema itself in The Beaches of Agnes. You push boundaries you would never admit exist, pressing your camera right to the heart of your own humanity. I strive to live! To create living art as present and vibrant as your own. No matter what they teach, who they credit, you’ll forever remain the matriarch of my cinematic history, the true grandmother of La Nouvelle Vague.