The besties review
Please mind the dust! the site is undergoing Maintenance and will be back up and running soon!
AGNÈS. GETS. BIBLICAL.
But for real, this movie is rife with symbolism. Varda has a lot to say about sex, fidelity, commitment, and faith. The most obvious allusions are to Adam and Eve, but it's not a coincidence that our debonair protagonist works as a carpenter. While it may not be as purely captivating as Cléo from 5 to 7, it is a film I will be revisiting for its complex themes and rich aesthetics.
“It’s not wandering, its withering.”
Definitely my least favorite of Varda’s that I’ve seen so far (after Cléo and Le Bonheur) but still a really interesting and inventive film. To be honest, a lot of my enjoyment came after the fact, while I was watching the Vagabond: Remembrances featurette on Criterion Channel. I think now hat I’ve heard Varda describe the process of making the film in her own words, I will better appreciate Vagabond when I revisit it.
The Gleaners and I
“Half the people are stingy… they won’t allow gleaning because they don’t feel like being nice.”
Filmed and released at the turn of the century, Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I holds up as one of the most riveting and eccentric documentaries ever made. Its straightforward simplicity yields exceptional power, as Varda follows a number of gleaners who gather food (and other) scraps on the shores, in the streets, and amongst the trees. Though Varda narrates much of the film from behind the camera, she does occasionally step into frame, personally interacting with her subjects instead of simply observing them. Varda even goes so far as to put herself (“I”) in the title. It’s a beautiful and peculiar documentary, but one that fits thematically next to Varda’s narrative films. As I have come to expect from Agnès Varda, The Gleaners and I is a film loaded with symbolism, philosophy, and wonder. I highly recommend.
The Beaches of Agnès
“What is cinema? Light coming from somewhere captured by images more or less dark or colorful. In here, it feels like I live in cinema, cinema is my home. I think I’ve always lived in it.”
It’s always a treat to to hear artists in their own words, especially when their own words are immeasurably thoughtful and poetic. I found The Beaches of Agnès to be a really touching mosaic of emotions, memories, and experimental tangents. There is a moment towards the beginning of the film that really stood out to me, where Angès is crying in the chapel, surrounded by photographs she took of her old friends. It’s the only times you really get to see Varda in a vulnerable state, and it is one of the heartbreaking things I have ever seen.
I couldn’t think of a better way to close out my Varda binge. It isn’t quite her final film, but it does feel like a conclusion. Her relationship with JR is natural and exciting, and the artwork they create together is legitimately beautiful. The final piece (Varda’s eyes and feet on the side of the train) is particularly touching. Throughout the film, Varda’s eyes allow her to see France’s faces, while her feet allow her to visit France’s places... and yet, both are steadily declining with age. It’s a great metaphor, and one that is not lost on Varda.
Another great thing about Faces Places is its intertextuality. Varda draws on past films and experiences (as she so often does), but it’s the inclusion of JR that best connects this film to Varda’s past. JR is a clear visual stand-in for Varda’s “longtime friend” Jean-Luc Godad, though their differences are what make this an interesting generational text.
I am happy to have gone on this brief journey into the world of Agnès Varda, and I look forward to returning there.
What is 5 Film Film Festival (5FFF)?
In short, 5 Film Film Festival is an ongoing personal project to help me watch more classic films. For each mini “festival,” I will choose a random theme (be it a genre, actor, director, etc.) and curate five movies that fit that theme to watch for the first time. When I started this journey, I posted my brief, unpolished thoughts on Letterboxd. I like this more informal, less pretentious mode of watching older movies, so as I begin documenting the project here on the site, don’t expect a lot of in-depth analysis— every “review” will read more like a “first reaction.”
If you’re like me, and you have more than a few blind spots in your cinematic knowledge, then consider joining me on this lifelong endeavor. Watch along, recommend themes, and organize some mini festivals of your own!