Friday, May 30, 2014

AGNES VARDA: FROM HERE TO THERE screens free tomorrow at the FSLC and plays the SundanceNOW DOC Club in June

What is it that makes little Agnès Varda (below) such a nonstop delight? This whirlwind of energy and ideas and connections -- filmmaker, documentarian, artist, raconteur and widow of another fine filmmaker, Jacques Demy -- has a (relatively) new series of documentaries, made for and shown on French television back in 2011, and titled AGNES VARDA: From Here to There (Agnès Varda: de ci de là).

This utterly charming, nonstop fascinating series of five separate episodes, each running 45 minutes, will make its New York City debut tomorrow (Saturday. May 31) at and courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center at 6pm in the Film Center Amphitheater, where it will screen free of charge. Tickets will be distributed one hour prior to performance time at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, only one ticket per person, and you can expect a line to form somewhat early. (If you miss its FSLC screening or live elsewhere around our huge country, the series will begin showing on the SundanceNOW DOC Club in June -- the best reason I can imagine to join this excellent documentary content provider.)

TrustMovies expected to watch only a couple of the five episodes before covering the series, but no --  that was not to be. Each segment is so accomplished and riveting in its quiet and unshowy manner, as it brings you up-close-and-personal to various artists, filmmakers and friends of Ms Varda that I couldn't wait to get to the next episode. In fact, I decided that there could not be a better way to start my day with with this series, so I watched one every day earlier this week with my morning coffee and oats. Each 45 minutes held me rapt and left me feeling terrific -- eager to begin my day. How much more can you ask of a documentary?

Varda's secret, I am guessing, is simply a matter of taste -- her own good taste and willingness to look at and be challenged by most anything/everything she views. The connections she makes are significant, and though I was unaware of most of the artists she covers, their work proved so interesting that there was not one I wasn't pleased to have brought to my attention.

In episode one, she tackles Chris Marker, and, as usual, anyone who tried this, vis-a-vis the late filmmaker, comes a cropper. As much as I love Marker's work, the man himself was so bent on keeping as much of himself and his own personality out of view that Agnès can only play around a bit to little avail (she does some cute things with Marker's cats) and then we move on.

Soon we're in Nantes with Anouk Aimée and Michel Piccoli for a celebration of M. Demy. Then we meet many more artists even more interesting than the mysterious Mr. Marker, though their work may be less so. We see collage, installations, singers, painters.  "I wonder what happened before that?" Varda remarks of a photo (above) we're just then viewing. And then she shows us an entire "before" video of these same people. She's such a little devil!

Manoel de Oliveira, whose Gebo and the Shadow only just opened here, turns up in this episode, too, telling us that "Reality is a dramatization organized by society." Interesting. He also notes that "Solitude is something I have no experience with," and then does a fine Charlie Chaplin impersonation and some splendid fencing (below), using his cane. What a guy! (What an 102-year-old guy! At the time, actually: he's now 105.)

Episode two takes us to Brazil, Brussles, Stockholm and Venice. In a Brazilian gift shop, Varda notes all the work on display and remarks, "You get a lot of hope for five Euros." We see again some of her marvelous work from The Beaches of Agnes. And then it's off to Brussles for a Magritte celebration! A highlight here is the woman journalist who comes to interview Varda. She is bald. Of course Agnès wants to know more about this, and so turns the tables and interviews her.

Episode three takes us to Basel, Cologne and St. Petersburg, where we see an igloo made of huge stones and then cathedral made of dried but quite edible pasta. Agnes eats it, with a bit of grated German cheese. There are potato images galore (above and below: that's Varda in a potato suit with the late Jonas Mekas). If she occasionally tells us things we either already know or could easily figure out (looking out at a city, she says, "Hundreds of thousands of people I don't know, and they all have their lives." Well, yes.), more often she'll come up with something swift, smart and fun.

Artist Christian Boltanski notes that "We all have our own dead child still inside us" (his morphing self-portrait goes from adult back to child). His wife, Annette Messager, is also an artist, whose work is perhaps even more interesting than that of her spouse. The two discuss their living situation in a sensible, thoughtful way, coming to terms with why we love who (or what) we do.

Episode Four takes us to Lyon for a 2009 art event. We begin with the Chinese and move on to Mr. Button, (Varda, above, has given that name to this artist she love). Then Varda returns to La Pointe Courte (the eponymous site of her first full-length film) and meets some of the men who played extras in that film, now fifty years later! We meet Jean-Louis Trintignant (below) and hear that famous actor read poetry and then speak quietly with Varda. We learn about fishing, too, and some odd facts: "Did you know that 90% of all fish are caught dead?"

The final episode takes us to Mexico, where the huge difference between the classes registers strongly. To Varda's credit, she bites the hand that feeds her (literally) by contrasting the enormous breakfast spread of food she is offered with the beggars and street vendors outside the four-star hotel where she is being housed by the film society that invited her there. The art we see is wondrous, however, and we also get a very interesting interview with Carlos Reygadas and a visit to Frida Kahlo's home.

The above are my highlights; you'll have your own. If you're already a Varda fan, you'll do whatever it takes to see this series. If you're new to the woman, this series -- from The Cinema Guild and running a total of three hours and 45 minutes -- is a fine place to make her acquaintance.

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