Director Spotlight II: Agnès Varda

Director Spotlight is our new self-indulgent way to watch movie after movie, complete minimal work, and call ourselves productive. We are two friends who often enjoy the 90 minute-long worlds created by these directors more than the one we are living in. We spend most of our time together watching movies, talking about movies, or one-upping each other with our strange, encyclopedic knowledge of independent film. We hope that our enthusiasm for movies will encourage readers to step out of their comfort zones and join us in the world of pseudo-intellectuals and cinema. 

Director Background: 

Agnès Varda is credited as the mother of the French New Wave. Her debut film “La Pointe Courte” (1955) marked the beginning of the movement, while her second and third features, “Cléo De 5 À 7” (1962) and “Le Bonheur” (1965), cemented her status as an international icon—signature bowl cut and all. Her expansive career of non-fiction and narrative films often centered around the lives of women, marrying documentary and fiction to push the boundaries of cinema. Varda’s passing in 2019 shook the film community to its core and marked the end of a cinematic era.

Lou and Emi’s Picks:











Reasons We Love Agnès Varda:

As a director who worked in both fiction and documentary, Varda made even her narrative films feel startlingly real. Whether in overt ways, like grounding “Cléo” in real time, or subtle decisions, like casting Jean-Claude Drouout’s actual family to play François’s in “Bonheur,” Varda let reality seep into the world of her films. This strategy even permeated her earliest works— “Pointe” stemmed from Varda taking photos of the real town of Sète and its inhabitants, and it soon evolved into a documentary about the town before Varda inserted the fictional couple into the story.

At the same time, Varda’s mastery in all elements of filmmaking complicates her work beyond realism. The clever ordering of shots in Varda’s films is one of the most alluring parts of her personal style. For example, after François promises fidelity to Thérèse, Varda wittily inserts a shot of his collection of photos of women pasted onto his tool shed, a perfect representation of her use of detail to create an off-putting comedic tone. Shots of the couple in “Pointe” almost always have a background action, as Varda moves her focus between the couple and their background, making storylines collapse into each other. Other times, the world seems to disappear, as when Cléo sings a song and the camera lets the background fade away, giving the audience time to focus on actress Corinne Marchand’s expressions and emotions.

Aside from style, Varda’s careful consideration of the relationships in her films makes them even more fascinating. The aspect that made “Pointe Courte” into the revered film it is today is the dance between Lui and Elle. As they converse, the gentle contact between the characters looms as a source of tension. Whether it’s when they touch as they pass each other or the camera switches between their faces as they make deep eye contact, each shot seems to further evolve the relationship between the two. All of these aspects unite to make Varda’s films memorable emotional and artistic experiences, truly showing why she is the mother of modern cinema.

Editor’s Note: Loulou Sloss is an Associate Eighth Page Editor for The Phillipian