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(Credit: Martin Kraft)

Film

Exploring the life of Agnès Varda - The mother of French New Wave

@Russellisation

“In my films, I always wanted to make people see deeply. I don’t want to show things, but to give people the desire to see” – Agnès Varda

The thrill of watching an Agnès Varda film blossom into life is truly a personal peek through the viewfinder of another’s life, an experience like no other. Once described by Martin Scorsese as “one of the Gods of Cinema”, Varda is a pioneer of French filmmaking and arguably the mother of the 1950s French New Wave aesthetic. A distinct experimental style would typify her form of filmmaking, using non-actors, and authentic places to project her own idiosyncratic point of view of the world around her. 

Varda’s love of cats in some ways should tell you everything you need to know about the filmmaker’s happy-go-lucky attitude and patient sensibilities, even including her feline friends in the logo of her own production company ‘Ciné Tamaris’. Known for being an incredibly loving and tender individual, with clear evidence toward this in her later works The Beaches of Agnès and Faces Places, this shouldn’t let you become distracted from a distinctly rebellious form of filmmaking, both in form and content.

Her career in filmmaking began in photography, studying the subject at the ‘Vaugirard School of Photography’ where she would develop her own eye for capturing the pinnacle of a singular ‘moment’ and the faces that experienced that singularity. As a natural progression, Varda began to lean toward filmmaking, transferring her eye for the ‘moment’ into the moving-image to develop tender films that would radiate the very same energy. To achieve this, she would adopt an altogether more naturalistic mode of filmmaking, using long takes, choppy editing, and the crucial use of on-location shooting, despite a lack of quality sound equipment at the time.

“In my films, I always wanted to make people see deeply,” she once said. “I don’t want to show things, but to give people the desire to see.” Varda’s words here resonate in the psychoanalysis of her first film La Pointe Courte, in which a struggling couple must come to terms with their deteriorating marriage during a trip to a small French fishing village. The documentary aesthetic Varda utilises here would go on to become a trademark of her filmmaking style, one described as ambitious, honest, and brave during her debut film’s critically acclaimed (if commercially unsuccessful) release. La Pointe Courte demonstrated Varda’s impassioned freedom for filmmaking and for giving a platform to those rebellious voices and rebellious themes that defined the spirit of the late 20th century.

In her next feature film, Cleo from 5 to 7, and indeed throughout her whole body of filmmaking, Varda would explore themes of feminism without herself ever defining herself as a feminist filmmaker, stating: “I’m not at all a theoretician of feminism, I did all that—my photos, my craft, my film, my life—on my terms, my own terms, and not to do it like a man.” Rather, Varda was interested in portraying life as she had lived it, and feminism in the ’50s was a struggle. It was the filmmaker’s desire to transfer her own experience, hold up a mirror to the world she perceived, and reflect her vision. 

From La Pointe Courte to Vagabond, The Gleaners & I to Faces Places, Agnès Varda’s vision bloomed, creating films that taught us the meaning of living and loving, without a judgemental eye. Her stories naturally stem from the environments she depicts, creating authentic tales of humanity with such simple artistic form, using the camera as a playful tool to show the world her zestful way of seeing.  

“I had a world. I don’t think I had a career. I made films” – Agnès Varda

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