(A shorter version of this review appeared here when TIFF screened this film during their festival last September. This longer version exists for its limited theatrical release.)
Director Agnes Varda could do no wrong, but we still have to dissect why that’s the case. That’s especially true with her latest film, Varda by Agnes, where she talks about her work. Other filmmakers would look like egomaniacs if they did the same thing, but thankfully, she does not. And that’s because, as she films herself doing a bunch of talks, she discusses her many collaborators. She literally shares the stage with them, as conscious of live space like it was film.
Varda by Agnes looks at her illustrious, decades long career that both has its highs and lows. This film organizes her many public speeches either in opera houses or on her previous sets. She sometimes looks into the camera during these location shoots, but doesn’t during the talks on stage. There’s something meta about how she can see herself and her work objectively while simultaneously being ego-less. It also shows how she fully engages with both a live audience and future, cinematic ones.
Film retrospectives like this aren’t complete without clips of the films she directed. And there’s lots here. Here she shows off both a sense of time and ephemeral place that these films beautifully capture. She depicts cities and the people within them as characters, exposing their polarities and complementary contradictions. Her camera is at home both in France and, occasionally, America, her past and present in unison. We can hear her in some of these clips, making us wish she was still here.
We will get to that mournful tone later but for now, Agnes Varda has time to talk. Some topics include her lesser known work like her tribute film One Hundred and One Nights. It stars Michel Piccoli as Simon Cinema, a Langlois-type figure living in a castle dedicated to cinema. The clips she chooses for this film show off both the erudition and whimsy that she both has. She also shows off a certain vulnerability in talking about working with an all star cast.
Varda also dives deep into the symbolism in her work while again, acknowledging images’ ephemeral nature. Hearts show up a lot in her work, sometimes she constructs them out of translucent colored paper. And sometimes, they grow out of the earth like they do in The Gleaners and I. These are just a few of the motifs that she speaks of with both intelligence and expressiveness. It’s sad that she’s no longer with us but there’s a joy in experiencing her life and her amazing work.
Varda by Agnes has week long screenings in Toronto, Sudbury, and Victoria. For more information go to https://www.filmswelike.com/films/varda-by-agnes.