Viva Varda! - 10 Movies by Agnès Varda
2019 has seen the loss of one of the most creative directors in cinema. Who’s going to make those smart and life-affirming movies now? Agnès Varda’s filmography was distinguished by a positive, endearing, and even playful nature that never felt cloying. The late Belgian director was never afraid of exploring new genres either. She tackled with documentaries as well as fiction, and even dared with musicals and biographies, without ever losing her distinctive humanism and social worries.
To remember one of the greatest, we present ten of her best works.
In preferential order:
10. One Hundred and One Nights
Les cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma | 1995 | FRANCe, UK
It was 1995 and movies were 100 years old, so Agnès Varda decided to give cinema a picture as a gift because what else could have she given? Homage movies get lost in references and complacencies, but Varda makes this camp pastiche, full of colours and featuring cameos by Catherine Deneuve, Hanna Schygulla and Robert De Niro, that feels more like a thank-you letter than a tribute.
09. La Pointe Courte
1955 | France
Varda was always referred as the “Grandmother of the French New Wave”, which is a little insulting if we consider that she was born way after Éric Rohmer and she’s only two years older than Godard. Other film experts say she belongs to the Rive Gauche movement, with Alain Resnais and Chris Marker, among others. Whatever. Sometimes I think nobody makes up their mind just to not give Varda credit that La Pointe Courte was the movie that launched the French New Wave, and not Le Beau Serge, nor The 400 Blows, nor Breathless. Varda’s debut is a fiction-documentary hybrid where the director was already showing interest in the life of the working class.
08. Le Petit Amour
Kung-Fu Master! | 1988 | FRANCE
The movie, about a woman who starts a relationship with a ten-year-old kid, is already by itself highly problematic, but if we consider all the people involved in it, the situation becomes even worse. Mom Varda directs her son Mathieu Demy to play the minor in question, and her best friend Jane Birkin takes the lead role. To make things more complicated, we have Charlotte Gainsbourg who is Birkin’s daughter both in real life and in fiction. Somebody call Social Services!
07. One Sings, the Other Doesn't
L'une chante l'autre pas | 1977 | France, Belgium, Soviet Union, Venezuela
A musical about the legal right for abortion? Only in Varda’s universe. And only Varda could make that work. In this movie from 1977 that still feels relevant in these current times, Varda follows the friendship over the years between two women of different personalities: one sings, the other doesn’t; one decides to terminate her pregnancy, the other doesn’t; one becomes an activist, the other doesn’t.
06. The Gleaners & I
Les glaneurs et la glaneuse | 2000 | France
“The dance of the lens cap” is a defining moment in Varda’s filmography that truly defines her personality: the director leaves the camera running and accidentally tapes the lens cap dangling above the ground. Any other director would have deleted that footage, but Varda, as a good gleaner, and thanks to her keen eye for detail, saves a sequence that even home movies get rid of. The Gleaners & I is a charming documentary film about finding value in things that others consider waste.
05. Mur Murs
1981 | France, USA
Agnès Varda had always been cool, ahead of her time, and she confirms that with a movie about the rise of the graffiti art way before it was considered hip. Varda understood that graffitis were not an act of vandalism per se, but an artistic expression just like any other. She understood that, behind these murals, there’s also a sociopolitical background.
1976 | France, West Germany
Some movies, like good wine, improve with age, especially documentary films, like Frederick Wiseman’s films, for example, that work as time capsules where they show the society of that period. In addition to being an intimate feature about Varda’s neighbours, Daguerréotypes focuses on an endangered species: the local business. Varda interviews owners and employees from a varied selection of stores, from a butcher's to a watchmaker’s workshop. Varda follows their routines, their relationship with their clients, and the way they behave when they shop.
Sans toit ni loi | 1985 | France
Agnès Varda won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for this tale of a homeless woman. The director not only wonders how someone ends up in that situation, but she’s also interested to know what happens to all the people we meet in our way. Have you ever wonder if you changed somebody else’s life? Do your primary school friends even remember you? Have you changed your neighbours’ destiny just by saying “Hi” to them?
02. Cléo from 5 to 7
Cléo de 5 à 7 | 1962 | France, Italy
24 what? Way before the famous Kiefer Sutherland starrer, Varda had already shown movies in real time, but unlike 24, minutes don’t run in a vertiginous way. Whereas Jack Bauer and his entourage had to race against the clock, Cléo wants time to fly by while she waits for some blood results that will confirm her if she has cancer o not. During this tense wait, Cléo visits a fortune teller, rehearses a musical number and watches a short movie with Jean-Luc Godard as its protagonist.
01. Le Bonheur
1965 | France
Can you film happiness in cinema? Not really. Because, for a story to work, there must be a conflict, and if there’s a conflict, then happiness is ruined. Varda would’ve gotten close enough with Le Bonheur if it wasn’t for the fact that this movie is one of the most cynical features ever produced. In Le Bonheur, the main character finds happiness, but thanks to someone else's sacrifice, i. e., death.