In her late eighties, but still as fast as anything, director and photographer Agnès Varda travels together with street artist JR, a hip thirties, through France in search of inspiring people and locations for their film “Visages, villages” (2017). An unlikely collaboration you would say given the age difference. The story of how they met, or rather how they did not meet, is portrayed humorously in acted scenes that set the tone for the rest of the film.
“Visages, villages” is a registration of a road trip in which the artists, their projects, and the stories of the people they meet are central. Some drama is not shunned. Everyone they meet is remarkably articulate, and eager to join Varda and JR’s party. For example, farmer Clemens van Dungeren from Chérence, who gives a friendly and very effective introspection of his inner world and modern farming life. From him we learn that a tractor is a moving computer with which one man can cultivate 900 hectares of land. And goatherd Patricia Mercier from Goult tells us that goats’ horns are burned to optimize the production process, and that she is strongly against it. The site of the abandoned and dilapidated village of Pirou-Plage is used for a neighborhood party. The people from the area are photographed and their portraits are pasted on the walls of the uninhabited houses. For a moment the ghost village comes back to life, and to illustrate this, Varda puts on a play in which a postman delivers a delivery to a ruin. It seems as if half of France has come out to take a picture with Varda and JR and pay tribute to rural and industrial life.
And while JR is busy pasting gigantic photos of the people they meet on facades, Varda muses about the past, about the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, the photographers Guy Bourdin and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and about her husband and director. Jacques Demy. A sincere interest in the lives of other people, and the need to visualize their stories, along with a touch of playful nostalgia, keep all these diverse topics together, turning ‘Visages, villages’ into something best described as an amusing and heartwarming film.