All film buffs know the French Nouvelle Vague (or New Wave) of course—even more casual enthusiasts are familiar with the works of Goddard, Truffaut, Demy et al. But there is one of the New Wave who’s still with us, tho she isn’t as well known by the public at large. That relative obscurity is a shame—at least—because her works are as filled with high artistry & inspiration as those of her more famous colleagues. That filmmaker is Agnès Varda.
Eberle & I have been on an Agnès Varda spree of late—a whirlwind of beautiful & inspired films. Actually, until a few months ago, neither of us had seen any of Varda’s films except for Sans toit ni loi—Vagabond as it’s called in the States or Without Roof or Law (a literal translation) in other English speaking countries. We both saw the film at Vinegar Hill Theater in Charlottesville, VA; I recall that I found the film beautifully made & powerful—but so powerful as to be harrowing. Eberle says quite straightforwardly that Vagabond changed her life. I found it quite interesting that when we saw Varda’s 2008 cinematic autobiography, Les plages d'Agnès (in English, The Beaches of Agnes), she talks about how Sans toit ni loi was born out of rage—rage at the marginalized & oppressed condition of women (it’s telling that Varda discusses the film against a filmed backdrop of women’s rights protests), but also about her marginalization as almost the only woman, along with Marguerite Duras, within French cinema.
There is no question that Sans toit ni loi is a great film, but it may not be the best introduction to Varda’s work—at least in my opinion (Eberle might disagree with me on this). During our recent Varda watching spree, we’ve seen La Pointe-Courte (Varda’s debut film in 1955), L'opéra-mouffe (The Diary of a Pregnant Woman, 1958), Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7 from 1962), Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners & I, 2002) & Les plages d'Agnès. In these films we were struck by Varda’s focus on the ordinary objects & appurtenances of everyday life—her eye for detail—& a focus that can morph readily from surreality to candid realism. Varda’s films also celebrate process, whether following the real time movement of a woman awaiting a possibly serious diagnosis in Cléo de 5 à 7 or her detailing the process of gleaning in Les glaneurs et la glaneuse—in case you don’t know, gleaning is picking up what is left over after a harvest. & despite her treatment of serious themes, her films are always inviting to watch.
Agnès Varda began her artistic career as a photographer, & you can see this background in the composition of her shots—many stills from her films would be art photographs in their own right. She combines this with a thorough feminist vision & a fierce love of life combined with a keen sense of social justice. I’ve added four clips from her films—I know that’s a lot, but I’ve selected short ones (& sorry—the definition on the Vagabond clip isn’t so great.) The clips should give at least some sense of these characteristics.
Some of Ms Varda’s 47 films are available on DVD. The Criterion Collection has issued a must have set called 4 by Agnès Varda (La Pointe Courte, Cléo from 5 to 7, Le bonheur, Vagabond), & The Beaches of Agnes, The Gleaners & I & Vagabond also are available. All of these except for Le bonheur are also current NetFlix selections.
Hope you find the clips intriguing, & please do check out the marvelous films of Agnès Varda.