Review: Varda by Agnès (2019)


Directed by: Agnès Varda, Didier Rouget | 115 minutes | documentary | Featuring: Agnès Varda, Sandrine Bonnaire, Hervé Chandès, Nurith Aviv, Esther Levesque

Remarkably, the retrospective “Varda par Agnès” (2018) by the recently deceased Agnes Varda starts to get really interesting when we have had most of her career behind us. Which is saying something, because Varda’s working life spans a period of seventy years.

In 1948 she started as a photographer at the age of 20 and made the step to cinema in 1954 with her debut “La pointe courte” (1955). A classic in what would later become known as the Nouvelle Vague movement. Until the early 1990s she made a number of well-received feature films and a large number of documentaries. Her latest feature “Les cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma” from 1995, a nostalgic ode to cinema, stuffed with a variety of big names, however, flopped.

Varda was now 67 and she did not expect to make such a prestigious and relatively expensive project. It marked the end of a period in her life. Five years later, however, she would reinvent herself as a visual artist with the help of digital video technology.

We are then just over halfway from “Varda par Agnès”. She sets aside the same amount of time for the treatment of the last twenty-three years of her life. Not that her previous work is less interesting, but the feature films are so diverse in terms of content and style that they get lost in this overview. Varda lets the separate anecdotes succeed each other at a rapid pace, some with more and less attention. Sometimes she looks back fondly, especially when she brings back memories of her husband Jacques Demy and Jane Birkin.

Around the turn of the millennium, Varda makes a new start with a documentary about food foragers and a beautiful installation based on shrinking potatoes. Many more works were to follow, including the amazing “Visages Villages” with street artist JR, for which she received an Oscar nomination.

The stories are livelier and more lucid, as if Varda is only now having fun. In this last part of “Varda par Agnès”, the playful and astute genius of Varda comes to the fore and as viewers we finally feel really allowed into her world of thought.

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