'The Beaches of Agnés' at the 22nd Cork French Film festival


WRI/DIR/PRO: Agnes Varda DOP: Agnes Varda, Julia Fabry, Héléne Louvart, Arlene Nelson, Alain Sakot ED: Baptiste Filloux, Jean-Baptiste Morin • Featuring: Agnes Varda, André Lubrano.

The Gate Cinema,  6:30pm, Monday, 7th March 2011

The second Agnés Varda film to grace the Festival in their excellent retrospective of her work, the first being the opening film Cleo from 5 to 7, The Beaches of Agnés is a very personal insight into the philosophies of Ms. Agnés Varda. She believes that there are landscapes inside that define people and naturally she chose a beach as hers. It makes sense, beaches are ever changing, vast and beautiful their malleability befitting a director of such variety and depth.

To label this a simple documentary would greatly undersell the piece as it combines a number of interesting stylistic devices to create a unique whole. There’s the woman herself narrating her story, from her initial work in photography through to her maturation as a filmmaker to being recognised as a grand old dame of experimental cinema. That through-line represents the arc of the film in its most traditional sense but our recollections never go in that straight a line. They meander, they grope in the dark of memory and we are left with intriguing tangents. The film is rife with lovely absurdist imagery, a cartoon cat engages her in conversation, her intimacy with visionary director Jacques Demy is shown in two anonymous nude figures nuzzling in her courtyard. Freedom of narrative and chronology is vital here. The conceit of the beach is maintained as she creates a makeshift sand pit in the middle of a busy street. It’s the style she’s always brought to her work reflected back on herself and the journey is a wonderful one, tender, hilarious and heartbreaking all in one.

Her much storied career is presented here in a very natural way, the chronology brought along by clips and encounters with her family as we see generations of her family share the screen. There’s an honesty at work, that can only come when filtered through a very content artist, a woman who knows her craft well and can use it to navigate such a complex subject. Her myriad styles and experiments are presented, and her modesty is always apparent through her humorous, self deprecating pronouncements. Those with a thirst for New Wave lore will love the anecdotes, aspiring filmmakers can marvel at her innovations and joie de vivre. Some may be surprised for her love of LA in her confession that she was readily seduced by the Hollywood Hills but for everyone there is a sense of real self analysis and joy for the very act of creating art.

In one interesting aside she questions how much do we understand the concept of family through events and shared history? We may know these people but can we ever hope to truly understand such a bond? The feeling one gets from this is that Ms. Varda would always have been an inquisitive and philosophical soul even if she hadn’t discovered her love for the medium of film. But we should be thankful that she did for the many pleasures it has afforded us.

Emmet O’Brien


Emmet O’Brien’s review of Cleo from 5 to 7


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