The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

“I think it deals with this question, ‘what is cinema?’ through how I found specific cinematic ways of telling what I was telling. I could have told you the same things that are in the film by just talking to you for six hours. But instead I found shapes. Like in the scene when I wanted to show the five men their fathers, whom they’d never met. I made a sort of exhibition with a 16mm projector and a screen, and they have to push the images of their fathers into the night. I could have just shown them a picture, but I found something that people will share and feel. It’s a ritual and a burial. I found things like this in many places in the film. I made a fool of myself, and I made a fake car in which I tried to park. It’s interesting to do that at 80, and I enjoy doing it and showing it to people and to my grandchildren.”

‘The Beaches of Agnès’, directed by Agnès Varda in 2008, is a French documentary by the director of ‘Cléo from 5 to 7’, ‘Vagabond’, ‘Jacquot de Nantes’ and ‘The Gleaners and I’. Varda’s movie is a biographical journey through her early life and film career that uses various techniques such as still photography, fictionalised scenes, footage from her movies and interviews to create a feeling of a bricolage. This is entirely in keeping with her earlier study of her husband Jacques Demy, but also draws on themes she explored in  ‘The Gleaners and I’. To Varda, life seems to be a collection of ‘found’ memories and recovered nostalgia. The film is full of scenes in which the director seeks to regain the past through her interaction with it, either through individuals, objects or locations. ‘The Beaches of Agnès’ has the melancholic feeling of a swansong about it – simultaneously engaging and heartwarming, but also deeply sad, especially in her recounting of the slow death of Demy. For all this she doesn’t dwell on aging, and you get a feeling that she is expressing the view that her spirit, through the years, has remained undimmed. It’s part film, part art-installation, a film that charts not only a life, but the historical texture of a country from occupation through demonstration to an uncomfortable sense of capitalisation. Varda’s life is clearly one made up of scraps, of acquired detritus and mementoes, and through this picturesque unpacking of her child and adulthood, it’s clear that she sees the raw material of her films as part of this collage.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s kind of like the flipside of, ‘Jacquot de Nantes’, but on this occasion it’s a film about life and film. I’d take that as a great double bill.

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