Varda by Agnès

Review by Aimee Knight

Directed by

Agnès Varda

Starring

Agnès Varda

Anticipation.

Once more unto the beaches with Agnès.

Enjoyment.

A generous denouement to a worthy body of work.

In Retrospect.

Devotees and newbies alike will reap what Varda has sown.

The late doyenne of French cinema offers a personal guide through her treasured oeuvre.

Film is “a beautiful summer peach with a worm inside,” says Agnès Varda with characteristic sass. It’s one of many sensorial images conjured, then left to rest, across her final work. Just as the late auteur and artist described her primary medium – cinema – in myriad evocative ways, so too does Varda by Agnès defy any neat, fixed categorisation. Sure, it’s a documentary – a mode that the director toyed with across her eminent career. It’s also a lecture, a scrapbook, a clip show, a political missive, a billet-doux, an afternoon with an old friend and a self-penned eulogy.

Varda passed in March of 2019, aged 90, having directed more than 50 shorts and features since 1955. Charting her major cinematic works, Varda by Agnès opens in a grand old opera house, where the impish auteur settles into a director’s chair and personally escorts a live audience through her treasured oeuvre. Irreverent yet tender, she navigates her cinematic star-map conceptually, not chronologically, applying the deep, cerebral principles that helped her propagate the Nouvelle Vague movement in the mid-’50s, and continued to shape her creative practice for the six ensuing decades.

In addition to surveying Varda’s unique contribution to film, Varda by Agnès explores her simultaneous relationships with visual art, photography, theatre, music and philosophy. A memoir writ in moving image, the film returns to her favourite motifs, such as family, feminism and feeling (in the corporeal sense), to unite Varda’s bountiful output across myriad artforms.

Each work is illuminated by insight that burns with – to paraphrase the woman of the hour – “the bright clarity of a too-short summer.” Varda by Agnès is about time. In archival footage, the director reflects on her best-known film, Cleo from 5 to 7, curiously comparing ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ experiences of the allegorical ticking clock. Both films explicitly grapple with time’s linearity and, implicitly, its inevitable conclusion. Such reminiscences are ripe with pleasure and melancholy. After all, nostalgia takes root (emotionally and etymologically) in pain.

Though a waggish woman, Varda seemed to have an earnest outlook on ageing, showcasing her wrinkles in The Gleaners and I, documenting her ocular degeneration in Faces Places. Yet her final film – presumably made as she fought breast cancer – feels rather like an attempt to pause time, albeit temporarily. Thanks to video technology (which she readily embraced), one Agnès will always live on a beach, captured in digital amber, telling seagull cut-outs that her worst nightmare is an empty cinema.

“Inspiration, creation and sharing” were the driving forces behind Varda’s career. While her own presence, both spiritual and physical, often figured in her films, she was genuinely more concerned with the people and stories that mainstream society left behind. After dedicating decades to truly seeing, hearing, feeling humankind, perhaps she worried that, in time, her full story might be similarly forgotten. Varda by Agnès has future-proofed that prospect for many seasons to come.

Published 17 Jul 2019

Tags: Agnès Varda

Anticipation.

Once more unto the beaches with Agnès.

Enjoyment.

A generous denouement to a worthy body of work.

In Retrospect.

Devotees and newbies alike will reap what Varda has sown.

Related Reviews

On Location: The final shot from Agnés Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7

By Adam Scovell

Paris’ Boulevard de l’Hôpital provides the setting for one of the most cherished endings in French cinema.

Agnès Varda: ‘I’ve always enjoyed sharing people with audiences’

By David Jenkins

The loquacious goddess of French cinema reflects on her extraordinary career ahead of the release of her new film, Faces Places.

Up With People: In Remembrance of Agnès Varda

By David Jenkins

The beloved French filmmaker, who has passed away aged 90, leaves behind a peerless body of work.

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design

Sign up to our newsletter to hear more from team LWLies