Director’s Chair Introduction: Agnes Varda

by Tony Cogan · April 1, 2019 · Director's Chair · No Comments

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Deadline: 27th April 2019

Hello everyone, it’s time to announce this months director highlighted for Director’s Chair and this is acting as a memorial version of Director’s Chair. With the passing of Agnes Varda on 29th March 2019, the cinema world lost one of the titans of the French New Wave, Agnes Varda, and this month is a tribute to her undeniable legacy.

Now Varda’s career actually started off in photography, which became important for her film career as she used photographs to stage the way she wanted shots to look before filming the scenes. When working in photography, Varda became interested in making films, with a desire to make films that related to her time. This helped inform her first film La Pointe Courte, which became a precursor to the French New Wave using a mix of professional actors with the residents of La Pointe Courte to create a documentary/neorealist aesthetic. La Pointe Courte is now considered to be the moment when the French New Wave started, in an unofficial capacity.

After La Pointe Courte, Varda made a few documentary shorts, including some for the French tourism board, before going back to features with Cleo From 5 to 7, which raised questions about the representation and objectification of women in French society, and is another pivotal film of the French New Wave.

Her next most prominent film outside of France came in 1985 with Vagabond, which is considered to be one of the greater feminist works of Varda, with the film told in a non-linear documentary style and focusing on the de-fetishisation of the female body from the male perspective. At this time, Varda also did work with Jane Birkin, with both a docudrama about the work of Berkin and the film Kung Fu Master, written by and starring Birkin (along with starring her daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg), with this also being an example of how video games have been used in arthouse film through the use of the game Kung Fu Master. The films Varda made with Birkin ended up being uncomfortable for Charlotte Gainsbourg due to the amount of time that Varda and her crew were camped in Birkin’s house, and the films only got US distribution in 2015.

In 1991, after the death of her husband and fellow figure of the French New Wave Jacques Demy, Varda made a tribute to him with Jacquot, combining a recreation of his early life with footage of his films and him dying, with this continuing a prevalent theme in Varda’s work, that being the acceptance of death.

In 2000, Varda made The Gleaners and I, looking at the lives of gleaners (harvesters) in the French countryside, with it being known for a freeform nature looking at elements of art alongside the work of the gleaners, and being the first time Varda worked with digital cameras. The fragmented style of filmmaking and the subject matter of the film is often interpreted to show that great art can be made from anything, even scraps, but society creates this impression that for art to be worthy, it has to be made with worthy (i.e. expensive) material.

In 2017, Varda co-directed Faces Places with artist JR, focusing on the two travelling across France and making portraits of those they come across. The film was heavily acclaimed, and was nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars. Varda’s nomination for this made her the oldest person to be nominated for a competitive Oscar. Alongside being nominated for a competitive Oscar, Varda won a long overdue Honourary Oscar for the impact that she has had, and will continue to have, on the film world.

I know that this is a very simplified look at the incredible life and work of Vardas and there will be people who know more about the French New Wave than me that can truly express the powerful impact she had on the film world. I at least hope that I can encourage you to watch more of Varda’s films

If you need a reminder of Varda’s films, I’ve listed them below (with their English titles for convenience).

  • La Pointe Courte
  • Cleo From 5 to 7
  • Happiness
  • The Creatures
  • Far From Vietnam
  • Lions Love
  • Daguerrotypes
  • One Sings, The Other Doesn’t
  • Mural Murals
  • Documenteur
  • Vagabond
  • Jane B by Agnes V
  • Kung Fu Master
  • Jacqout
  • The Young Girls Turn 25
  • A Hundred and One Nights
  • The World of Jacques Demy
  • The Gleaners and I
  • The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later
  • Cinevardaphoto
  • Some Widows of Noirmoutier
  • The Beaches of Agnes
  • Faces Places

I look forward to seeing what you send me.