Sunday 14 September 2008

TIFF 2008 - Les Plages D'Agnes

It's probably best that Agnes Varda couldn't make the Q&A after the recent screening of her new film "Les Plages D'Agnes". I'm not sure she could've withstood the massive group hug that the audience was looking to hand out to her.

The film is a set of personal remembrances of her life and her art, but it's packed with so many new ideas that it couldn't be said to be a complete summation of her work - she obviously has much more to create. Through many old photos, newsreels, old footage, recreations, current interviews and staged sets we get to follow her through her entire life from childhood to present. It's a charming wandering journey that allows Varda to wonder aloud about memory, it's accuracy and how it can be transmitted. While working her way past old signposts, Varda takes this opportunity to tell her stories and communicate her ideas in novel visual ways. A straightforward documentary is just not in the cards with her...

Some highlights:

  • "If they open me up, they'll find beaches". The beaches (or 'plages' in French) of Belgium were a strong childhood memory for her as it was where they spent much time together as a family. The opening section of the film spends some time on one of those beaches along with a variety of different mirrors. This allows her to create some lovely images and be in a playful mood as she reflects the faces of her helpers to the camera.
  • An early short film by Varda has a young Gerard Depardieu stealing a woman's art textbooks and then explaining to her why it makes sense that he should keep them.
  • Varda started out as a photographer and many of her shots show up in the film. My favourite was one of a young Fidel Castro sitting with a smile on his face in front of two rocks that seem to be jutting out of his back. Varda describes him as a "utopist with stone wings"
  • Leafing through a street market, she comes across a box full of "cinema cards" - collectibles with information about different directors. She finds not only her own, but also those of husband Jacques Demy and fellow French New Waver Jean-Luc Godard. She talks a bit about how "Breathless" did well and Godard was asked who else could make cheap movies that would sell. He recommended Demy who made "Lola". Demy in turn pointed to Varda who made "Cleo From 5 To 7".
  • Painters come up a few times: an early film of Varda's impressed a segment of the Impressionists community, she recreates "The Lovers" by Rene Magritte and mentions how she brings in her art influences to her films where possible.

  • The office on a beach set she creates in the middle of a road.
  • The sweetness and sadness that crops up in her voice whenever Jacques Demy's name is mentioned.
  • Varda sitting in the centre of a small room defined by curtains of filmstrips she made from one of her films.

I suppose a number of bullet points is no way to review a film. But considering the nature of the film (a leisurely stroll through a person's life full of memories and accomplishments) and its primary theme (the transfer and accuracy of memory) perhaps I'm not remembering correctly enough to write anything more down here.

I still want to give Varda a big hug though...


cat said...

thank you. i was planning on watching this film today in a small film festival in estoril, portugal, though i have much else to your insight was helpful, it made me decide to go =).

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi cat! I hope you enjoy the film. Stop by again and let me know what you thought and whether I steered you wrong or not...