Varda by Agnès: A timely retrospective

Theme trumps chronology in this final work from the filmmaker, artist and pioneer of the Nouvelle Vague

Agnès Varda: Her love of people informed her documentary work. Photograph: Cine-Tamaris

Film Title: Varda by Agnès

Director: Directed by Agnès Varda

Starring: Featuring Agnès Varda

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 115 min

Fri, Jul 19, 2019, 05:00

   

This final film from Agnès Varda, photographer, filmmaker, conceptual artist, and pioneer of the Nouvelle Vague, offers a timely retrospective of her life’s work. It’s a freewheeling affair anchored by a (kind of) TED talk on what Varda calls cine-writing. Theme trumps chronology as Varda takes the viewer through her early years as the only woman to emerge alongside Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Jacques Rivette, his seminal 1962 feature Cleo from 5 to 7, and her marriage to Jacques Demy, director of the Umbrellas of Cherbourg. 

This isn’t the first time that Varda has turned the camera on herself. She remembers making the similarly themed the Beaches of Agnès because her 80th birthday “... was bearing down on her like a train”. Varda by Agnès is a goofier account in its stress on the playful aspects of her work and because, as she puts it: “I’m 90 and I don’t care!”. 

When digital stock eclipses film, she turns her old reels into light boxes and exhibits. She gamely shrugs off her failures, including One Hundred and One Nights, featuring a madcap boating scene with Robert De Niro speaking in phonetically learned French. 

Her love of people, a love that informed her documentary work, is almost unbearably moving. She recalls walking through the slums as a pregnant woman and imagining the destitute people there as babies. She delights in watching a Chinese audience connecting with a film she made about French widows.

Varda died in March of this year. Watching the sprightly, energetic creature at the heart of this picture, it’s hard to believe that she’s gone.