Varda by Agnès (Varda par Agnès)
In 2008, documentarian Agnès Varda released The Beaches of Agnès. This was around the time of her 80th birthday, and she stated that it would almost certainly be her last film. Certainly not, as it turned out. 2017 saw the release of Faces Places, which resulted in an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary. At 89-years-old, Varda became one of the oldest ever Oscar nominees, alongside her fellow 89-year-old nominee James Ivory (who then became the oldest ever Oscar winner for his screenplay for Call Me by Your Name). Rather naturally, the Berlinale discussion surrounding her latest feature is infused with speculation as to whether Varda by Agnès will the last the world sees of this Belgian-born stalwart of French cinema. Based upon the richness and sheer enjoyment factor of the picture, hopefully it won’t be.
It’s perhaps the mark of an accomplished documentary that simplicity cunningly gives birth to complexity. What can seem very straightforward is presented in a manner of great intellectual and emotional depth, and this is very much how the piece unfolds. It’s a cinematic self-portrait, essentially a documentary that’s concerned with Varda’s reminiscences about her life and work. These memories (as demonstrated by footage, photographs, conversations and straightforward lectures) have a stream-of-consciousness quality, and yet there’s a confident precision to everything.
The lectures were primarily recorded at the Angers Film Festival and at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris, covering the director’s output in the 20th and 21st centuries respectively, and while the thought of a filmed lecture might not seem all that cinematic, Varda is such a warm and charismatic figure that it’s impossible to not be transfixed by her. Perhaps most likely to be of interest to cinephiles, Varda by Agnès is an unreservedly accessible piece of work which, on viewing, feels like spending 115 minutes in the company of a beloved aunt who wishes to enrich and inform.
Varda by Agnès (Varda par Agnès) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch two clips from Varda by Agnès (Varda par Agnès) here: