“Champagne on the road’s better.”
‘Vagabond’, directed by Agnès Varda in 1985, is a French drama following the final days of Mona, a homeless woman played by Sandrine Bonnaire. The film opens with the discovery of Mona’s body in a ditch next to a vineyard, and in flashbacks it then charts her encounters with a range of different people, each engaging with the countryside in their own ways. It won’t be a surprise to describe this as a melancholic film, and it is certainly presented without humour or any lightness to lift the mood. The character of Mona is a passive one, a victim but one that does not fight back against the twists that happen in her life. Varda constantly references a preoccupation with Mona’s body throughout the film, and as a framework to the flashbacks, the people Mona meets are interviewed as if for a documentary. Two things struck me about this film. The first was that one story it told seemed to be the absorption of Mona into the countryside. She spends the movie hunting out the modern world, living in a tent and searching for music (the soundtrack is almost entirely diegetic and it is music that Mona sneaks into the film). As the film progresses, these fragments of modernity are slowly stripped away, so by the end, having been soaked in wine as part of a festival custom in a village, Mona dies almost camouflaged in a ditch. The second aspect of the film that struck me, one related to the first, is how Mona seemed to fade away through the film, much like Flyora in Elem Klimov’s brutal war movie ‘Come and See’. The brilliance of Bonnaire’s performance means that, as with Flyora, you get a real sense of a declining journey towards death through the film.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s beautifully shot and, despite its melancholic subject matter, the small moments in Mona’s life still manage to be uplifting. If I were a sadist I’d suggest a double bill misery-fest with ‘Come and See’, but instead I’d go for Éric Rohmer lighter and more pastorally romantic ‘Autumn Tale’ instead for balance.