Not rated, but it features clips from movies that are quite R-rated. I'm often talking about nudity in these cases. I normally don't flag politics in a movie because movies should be political. But Varda talks quite about the politics that affect her choices. You know, in case an elderly family member who is cool with nudity, but not apposing viewpoints walks into the room. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Agnes Varda
What a place to start. Yeah, I bought the Agnes Varda Criterion box set. It's just so impressive and I apparently need to watch these giant box sets sometime. I don't know what's wrong with me either. It doesn't change the fact that I genuinely having them. They're just so pretty and I know that I love Agnes Varda. Okay, I kind of love Agnes Varda.
I fell in love with Varda while studying the French New Wave. For those not in the know, there were two camps in the French New Wave: those who came out of the Cahier du Cinema and the ones who didn't. Varda falls into the latter. But I watched the first Varda box set (which I suppose has now become obsolete shy of amazing packaging). Cleo from 5 to 7 and Vagabond both blew my mind. Varda stood out as an absolute genius to me. But because I won't be able to watch everything and I refuse to exclusively watch Criterion films a' la Scorsese, I didn't watch anything outside of the smaller Varda box until Visages / villages, and that was only because it was up for an Academy Award for documentary. Visages bugged me. It really did. I mean, in terms of visual art, it really works and it is kind of cute. But Old Lady Varda was a very different filmmaker to me. My completely unfair takeaway was an artist fighting with her youth. She knew that Agnes Varda of old was this revolutionary filmmaker who, at the right time and place, absolutely delivered on what society and the art world needed. This Varda desperately wanted to be her and it wasn't the same.
Varda by Agnes is the film immediately following that piece. When I say "film", I found out that it was a two-part limited series, which almost meant that I didn't have to write about it. It has a lot of the vibes of Visages / villages, which is a bummer. But there's something really respectable about Varda by Agnes. I can't deny that Varda, young or old, is an artist. Sure, she directed it herself, which goes into a lot of my criticism of Visages / villages. But there's something so twee and fun about Old Lady Varda making her own monument because no one else would do it for her. Maybe they would. But there's a motif about the role of aging in art. There's something nice about this whole thing being autobiographical. We get her thought process all the way through the film. In the course of watching this spliced together limited series (which is why I'm justifying writing about this), there's the notion that people don't want to listen to the elderly. They acknowledge that Varda has been this heavy hitter of cinema. But all it takes is something that isn't widely accepted and these artists become forgotten. Varda, the person, isn't ever ready to be forgotten. As much nonsense as I'm giving her, she's the person who stayed alive and kept the dream alive of making art. Even more so, so wanted to make art for art's sake.
I'm kind of the bad guy for wanting more of Varda's early stuff. The first half of the series is a retrospective of Varda's formal cinema. It's almost a clip show with mini-commentaries attached to these clips. And the weird thing, it's Varda who is pushing the narrative. I originally thought that this was going to simply be a rundown of her theatrical releases and two second takeaways. There's a few problems with this for me, mainly because it is the first film in the Agnes Varda box set. Part of me watched it as a trailer for all of the movies that I would be encountering in the movie, which makes sense why Criterion put this movie first. But on the other hand, it was stopping me from analyzing these films from my own perspective. It wasn't letting the movies speak for themselves. The author of these movies was telling me what the central themes and ideas were and who am I to argue with the artist? (The audience, that's who.) But then the second half of the movie showed up. This is the stuff that I thought that I was going to hate, because it is mostly Old Lady Varda. (I already went into my misguided thoughts on this era of Varda.)
What I discovered in this second half --now I know that it was its own episode -- was that I was able to see things that I would never be able to see anyways. As much as Varda is known for her directing, she is a visual and performance artist as well. Listen, the completionist in me jumps for joy at seeing these kinds of things. The second half of the movie were all of her museum and art instillations. These are things that I would never have the opportunity to see because they were, by nature, ephemeral. And it's in that appreciation of art that I realized that Varda was not one thing. I was the one putting her in this cinema box that she probably would not have appreciated. Yeah, I think she had a hard time defining herself given that time has passed. But I'm the one who is placing this idea that she has to be able to define herself in a void. Because I only saw snippets of these art instillations, I can't say that I took too many of them to heart. It was through a glass darkly and all that. But worse-comes-to-worst, she is a woman who is redefining herself with each art piece. Why do we have to be more successful than our previous works? Some of these works were impressive. Some of them less so. Who cares? She made them and that's all that matters.
The weirdest part of this movie is the notion that Agnes Varda would die soon after the release of this movie. It's a final piece that acknowledges that it is going to be the final piece. It reminds me of Shakespeare and The Tempest. There's something very final about The Tempest being his last work. Varda is not only saying goodbye to her audience (which might even be a stretch in itself), but she's saying goodbye to a lifetime of work. Her life is defined by her work. Her peers had either died long ago or stopped creating beyond a certain point. Instead, Varda is this lady who hung on and said that the good times didn't have to end. She was in her 90s, I think. She knew that there was a series of diminishing returns and she wanted to have everything in one place. She wanted you to come at this work as a doorway to a much wider world of cinema. As a movie in itself, it may be lacking. But it is also so perfect as a last movie that I couldn't imagine doing anything different with it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.