Varda by Agnès

 

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A final work from one of France's greatest filmmakers.

 
Varda by Agnès

  

For admirers of the late Agnès Varda this film is a bonus. When we heard of her death on 29 March 2019, it seemed likely that the splendid Faces Places would be her last film and a wholly fitting one for a filmmaker who, in an interview given just two months before she died, had declared "I just wanted to look at people and share". It was not only Agnès herself, so wonderfully engaged with life in old age, but also the people whom she encountered in Faces Places which made it such a remarkable piece, a film that could confidently be recommended even to those who knew nothing of Agnès Varda.

 

Now revealed as her final work, Varda by Agnès is again a documentary, but something quite different. Developed from live talks which she gave, it is a personal survey of her work duly illustrated. There are occasional shifts to other settings, but for the most part this is a record of her talking to an audience from a stage. She is joined   briefly by the actress Sandrine Bonnaire who at 17 starred in Varda's film Vagabonde, by the photographer Nurith Aviv who was an admiring collaborator and by Hervé Chandès who played an important part in enabling her to develop that later phase of her work when she turned to creating installations. This aspect of her career, along with an illustration of her early work as a photographer, may well surprise those who see Varda by Agnès because it is less familiar to us. Importantly it stands as further evidence of how she never ceased to evolve as an artist, a readiness to venture into new areas in old age that was remarkable.

 

Proceeding for much of the time chronologically, Varda surveys her work with a particular emphasis on the aims and instincts that shaped it and she talks in simple terms - but not simplistically - of the importance to her of inspiration, creation and sharing. Most of her film work is covered although occasionally an extract is featured that is unidentified or only identified after we have seen it. But in any case Varda by Agnès is first and foremost for audiences who know the films and will welcome this opportunity to be reminded of them again and in such a personal way. As this film draws to a close, we revisit Faces Places after which Varda discloses an ending for that film which was considered but not used. That being so, she adopts it to round off Varda by Agnès and, as a means of saying goodbye, it could not be more apt. Earlier, Varda has made several references to the music in her films and it is the inclusion of a song on the soundtrack that is key to this conclusion. The contribution that it makes is to provide a tone that counters sadness, thus creating a farewell entirely in character.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Agnès Varda, Sandrine Bonnaire, Hervé Chandès, Nurith Aviv.

 

Dir Agnès Varda with Didier Rouget, Pro Rosalie Varda, Screenplay Agnès Varda, Ph François Décréau, Claire Duguet and Julia Fabry, Ed Agnès Varda with Nicolas Longinotti.

 

Ciné Tamaris/ARTE France/Hbb26/Scarlett Production/MK2 Films/Ciné+-BFI Distribution.
115 mins. France/USA. 2019. Rel: 19 July 2019. Cert. 15.