Agnès Varda is a name that most of the general movie-going public has probably never heard.
Only a few years ago, I, too, had never heard of the French director. Then I saw the documentary “Faces Places,” which she directed, and I was blown away. “Faces Places” is an outstanding documentary that is almost about nothing. It centers on Varda and her friend JR as they travel around France pasting large images of whatever they feel is most appropriate on various walls and buildings.
“Faces Places” introduced me to Varda, who I would discover was an utterly brilliant French filmmaker and an essential part of film history. Her first feature film, “La Pointe Courte,” was released in 1955 and in the over half-a-century since, Varda directed over 20 other films, including “Vagabond,” “Cleo from 5 to 7” and “Le Bonheur.” Despite this lengthy and illustrious career, Varda has only been nominated for one Academy Award, Best Documentary Feature for “Faces Places,” but she was given an Honorary Award in 2018 to celebrate her work.
Sadly, Varda passed away earlier this year at the age of 90, but that hasn’t stopped her from providing one last film for audiences to enjoy. Her final film, “Varda by Agnès,” is a documentary and reflection upon her own life and career from beginning to end.
With this film, Varda gives film buffs and her longtime fans the chance to not only say goodbye, but to look back on and delight in the various stories of Varda’s life.
The film jumps between multiple different presentations and discussions which Varda hosted over the past several years. In these candid glimpses, Varda presented her thoughts and memories regarding the multitudes of films she was involved in during the course of her career. She talks about filming in France throughout the 60s and 70s, she analyzes the different approaches she took to filmmaking throughout the years and she offers fun anecdotes about various moments in her career, such as her time directing “One Hundred and One Nights,” which served as a celebration of the hundredth birthday of cinema.
Personally, I’ve only seen “Faces Places” but I’ve heard about many others, and I was able to follow everything she explored with ease as Varda chooses not to isolate viewers who have not seen her films. She presents each aspect of her career as if it's part of one larger story, and she provides various throughlines for viewers to gravitate toward and follow. Though it’s apparent that audiences will get more out of this film if they’re well-versed in Varda’s filmography, there is still plenty of enjoyable material here for someone who has never heard of Varda.
“Varda by Agnès” is a bittersweet farewell from one of cinema’s most pioneering figures. It’s a wonderful celebration of Varda’s life and career. Yes, it is a sad film to watch at times, but it also brings a lot of joy to its viewers. Varda had such a vibrant personality, and even if you were to ignore her entire place in film history, she would still be an entertaining and intriguing figure to listen to, purely because her character and spirit were unlike any other.
If you’re a fan of Varda’s, I imagine that you already plan on seeing this film. But even if you’ve never seen a film of hers, I would encourage you to give this film a shot. It’s a breathtaking and emotional exploration of an essential figure in film history, and it showcases why Varda’s name is one that deserves to be known and remembered.