Tuesday, November 19, 2019

VARDA BY AGNÈS: the French filmmaker's final gift is--no surprise--another marvel & treasure

A combination of honest, eloquent lecture filled with fascinating tidbits of French film history and a kind of crash course in first-class filmmaking -- granted, it's from a single, personal and very unusual perspective -- VARDA BY AGNÈS, the final film from one of the greats, Agnès Varda, who died this past March, is as eye-opening, charming and moving as any of her many fans will certainly expect.

As much as TrustMovies imagined he already knew about Varda and her work (the filmmaker is shown at right and below), the new documentary offers alternately the expected and some nice surprises.

Chief among the latter is the extended recent interview with that fine French actress Sandrine Bonnaire, who starred early in her career in Varda's Vagabond, from 1985. Bonnaire's conversation with the filmmaker is engaged and loving, even though some very difficult days of filming are recalled by both women.

We revisit other classic narrative Varda cinema such as Cleo From 5 to 7 and Le Bonheur, along with more recent documentaries like The Gleaners and I, The Beaches of Agnes, and last year's Faces Places, and the result is a kind of partial/mini retrospective which both reminds us of how wonderful are these films and brings us new information about them and the manner in which they were made.

Along the way, we learn of Varda's beginnings as a photographer, of her first foray into filmmaking -- La Pointe Courte (that's a young Alain Resnais, at work editing the film, above with Varda) -- and we even get to see her dressed as a potato for her Venice Biennale presentation (it's somehow a perfect visual match!).

The documentary grows ever more personal as it moves along. Even though Varda's oeuvre was so often focused on others, as she grew older, the work became as much about her as about her subjects. Fortunately she remains as interesting as they were.

This final testament is a grand way for the filmmaker to make her exit, and if this is your introduction to her work -- and you're relatively young -- you'll have plenty of time to drink it all in. Released by Janus Films, Varda by Agnès (which was originally produced for French television in two one-hour segments), in French and some English with English subtitles, runs two full hours and opens this Friday, November 22, in New York City at Film Forum and at Film at Lincoln Center. It also opens Dec 5 in Los Angeles at the Aero theater and then will be expanding nationwide. 

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