Agnès Varda, the great filmmaker and one of the few women associated with Nouvelle Vague cinema, has reached the age of 80. And, if her new movie is anything to go by, there are no signs of her slowing down.
Les Plages d’Agnès charts Varda’s life and work, casting an affectionate and occasionally wistful eye over the many extraordinary people she has known, most of them now dead. It would be all too easy and perhaps understandable for her to be self-indulgent, but her humor and constant inventiveness rarely allow her to stray into the realm of the maudlin.
From the very beginning of the film, her creative energy is astonishing as we watch her setting up a bank of mirrors on a Belgian beach while she muses on her childhood. Instead of focusing on conventional memories, she concentrates on the group of young workers who are helping her to place the mirrors in the sand, perhaps reflecting her own youth through these younger faces in mirrors rather than simply giving a straightforward account.
This is typical of her generosity throughout, as she talks about not only the famous people she has known (there are many), but also her local baker or grocer or grandchildren.
Her most tender memories are reserved for her husband, the wonderful film director, Jacques Demy, who died in 1990 of an AIDS-related illness; these observations complement the trio of films she made in his honor in the years following his death.
Sometimes her cinema goes beyond autobiography or fiction and becomes almost performance art. This is very much the case in various recreated scenes from her childhood or in her conversations with a cartoon cat.
She also retraces the trajectory of many of her movies, walking through the streets of Paris and visiting Los Angeles, where she lived for a number of years. It is typical of her that she does not dwell only on her successes but seems just as fascinated by her relatively few failures, such as Les Cent et une Nuits de Simon Cinéma, made to mark 100 years of cinema. The affection in which she is clearly held is demonstrated at the end of the film, on her 80th birthday, when 80 people arrive to mark the day.
The overall effect is of a woman who is politically and personally committed, compassionate yet feisty. I suspect that there are more movies to come from her, and thank heaven for that.Favorite