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In Review: Visages, Villages

Director: Agnès Varda

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It’s been ten years since Agnès Varda gave us The Beaches Of Agnès (2008), an autobiographical film in which the ’grandmother’ of French New Wave reconstructed her past through a tapestry of images, places and installations. And in this, her latest work, we see again that, at 90 years old, she has lost none of her youthful spirit. As the title suggests (‘Faces, Places’ en Anglais), the two are connected by the idea of people, places and images that tell a story. 

It doesn’t take long for this documentary-come-road-trip to get into gear. Before we can say ‘cheese’, she and 34-year-old French photographer and street artist JR are travelling around France in a van designed as a camera. Their aim is to photograph the people they meet and display the images, blown up in black and white, on the sides of walls, houses, sheds and even a Nazi fort. It’s clear that the images they display won’t last forever; one is washed from its structure within 24 hours. This is surely the point. Having said that, as is with all the novelties of today, they live on through social media platforms. 

The relationship between the two travellers elevates the film. It also sells the art they are producing. Without them, there would be a danger that the artistic intentions of the images would have an off-putting whiff of disingenuousness. This is, thankfully, not the case. They playfully bicker about JR’s Ray-Ban Clubmasters that he won’t remove. Varda describes them as spreading a ‘black veil’ between two of them and asserts that they remind her of an identical habit deployed by her old ami Jean-Luc Goddard. They rattle along the motorway singing ‘Ring My Bell’ by Anita Ward. ‘You do nothing but mock,’ she tells him, however you can hear the giggle in her voice. They have a connection, a friendship. 

For all the photography, installations and prints, what is really brought into focus is how art can and should connect with the people. When it does, the object becomes more than the physical entity alone. It provokes conversation and meaning. Bon travail. TS

FilmTom SilverComment