Faces Places: Just about the most adorable film of the year

Review: Odd couple Agnès Varda and artist JR spread joy and magic around France

Faces Places
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Director: Agnès Varda and JR
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Agnès Varda and JR
Running Time: 1 hr 29 mins

This fun, freewheeling documentary hatched between 89-year-old cinema veteran Agnès Varda and 33-year-old outdoor installation artist JR is just about the most adorable film of the year. Although slow on stairs, there is generally a spring in her step as the director of Cleo from 5 to 7 takes to the road with JR's camera-shaped van and a printer capable of producing the giant photographic images he uses in his large-form artworks.

Rolling into various villages around France, they find suitable subjects, chatting and shooting factory workers, drivers, farmers and cheese makers.

The staff of a salt-processing facility are photographed waving, and pasted across the once-dreary walls of the plant. Their water tank is transformed with enormous images of fish. A farmer stands, arms stretched, plastered across his huge barn. There’s a magic in watching people’s reactions to seeing themselves, or in one case, their great-grandparents who eloped, transmuted into a work of art.

One abandoned seaside development, comprising half-done, vandalised houses, suddenly teems with smiling locals, as Varda and JR decorate the empty dwellings with their faces. The effect is almost like watching an enchanted home improvement reality show or benevolent candid camera set-up comedy.


Throughout, the odd couple banter and gently rib at one another. JR teases Varda over her child-like stature. In one scene they sit on benches and her feet are hopelessly far off the ground. His insistence on always wearing sunglasses is a source of small annoyance that reminds her of Jean-Luc Godard, her new-wave comrade, who had the same affectation. “You see everything dark and you’re happy,” she says.

She eventually takes a train to see Godard, who stands her up and has left a scrawled message for her at his house. She calls her old friend a “dirty rat”, right before JR conjures the film’s happy ending. An absolute delight.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic