It’s easy to imagine Agnes Varda going up a castle tower with her camera. She does that and then points her camera to a parking lot with its share of 1950s era cars. Viewers can find shots like that in Ô saisons, ô châteaux. It’s a short film Varda did for the French tourism board and one of two shorts that OVID is adding as part of its catalogue of short docs. It seems like an easy money job, and this does have an air of a minor work, but she does a few interesting things here. There’s a palimpsest of the Medieval and the modern here, where the big stones comprising castles meet modern roads. She showcases the Angevin and French castles in the Loire Valley, most of them standing centuries later, thanks to generations of caretakers.
Ô saisons, ô châteaux is, for the most part, a testament to French grandeur from the Medieval to the Renaissance. However, Varda leaves enough ambiguity so that this doesn’t come off as straight up propaganda. She takes a long enough shot of what either looks like a map of the world or a wall that’s chipping away, or maybe I’m reading too much into her happy accidents. What’s more intentional is the narration. The audience can still hear her thoughts even though Daniele Delorme is doing the actual narration. They tell stories of princes experiencing freedom after years of exile and imprisonment, or of women marrying men they don’t love. These walls were a playground to centuries of suffering but both Delorme. And Varda present this information with, strangely, enough, happy tones.
Aside from the narration, Varda also makes Ô saisons, ô châteaux a visual treat. The greying castle walls never seem dour, and they come to live with the pops of colour that she expresses through nature and, strangely enough yet somehow also fitting, fashion. There are through lines among this work and those that come after it. A scene where women wear pastel couture while posing around castle towers is reminiscent of the Chanel Egoiste ad. The way she treats time here reminds me of Sokurov’s work. Sure, the audience can occasionally find elements that we normally hear or see in other Nouvelle Vague shorts. The jazzy score is an example, but I’ll let that pass because I can’t dock real marks off a Varda. If only more people saw history that way she did.
Watch Ô saisons, ô châteaux on OVID.