A young woman, dirty and homeless, is found dead in a ditch in the middle of wine country after a particularly cold night. Who is this woman? Why is she homeless? Why didn’t anyone help her? All of these questions pop up in the viewer’s mind when seeing this beautifully twisted young woman covered in dregs and dirt, but Varda chooses not to answer these questions. Instead she decides to show the viewer how this young woman reacts to the people around her and how they react to her. In doing this, Varda reveals a little bit about her past and her current philosophy, but not one of these people really understand this young vagabond. She remains a mystery to them, an interesting mystery.
Through her lens, Varda takes us to places that have hardly ever been filmed before. We see Arab migrant workers’ quarters, an abandoned mansion, a bus station, a poor sheep farm, a groundskeeper’s kitchen, a professor’s posh apartment, and the deserted frozen wine country of the heart of France. But more importantly we see people’s lives that are not commonly shown. We see the back breaking work of a vine cutter, a maid that takes care of a neglected rich aunt, mechanics, truck drivers, and grifters constant need to pull tricks in order to find money. We see all of these things through Mona’s fearless eyes. Everything Mona sees is murky, slightly dirty and yet enduring and inviting.
Mona at the beginning is a vibrant young woman who doesn’t take anything lying down. For instance she scores a ride with a truck driver and when he insinuates that she needs to blow him in order for him to take her on, she hops out and flips him the bird. She has sex with who chooses for reasons that sometimes does not seem completely moral (for instance she has a relationship with this guy for his grass), she dances to popular jams on the radio, she eats fiercely and she doesn’t wash her clothes. However with each encounter and each person either trying to put her down physically or psychologically, she grows weak. Everyone wants her to be something that she is not. She does not want to own and work a farm (despite what she says), she doesn’t want to live in the mansion forever with the grass filled man, she isn’t a hopeless romantic, she wants to get in the way of things, she doesn’t want to be paid to have sex with strangers, and she most definitely does not want to be saved by a hoighty toighty professor. She wants to be free. However freedom comes at a price.
Vagabond incorporates Varda’s inante knack at documentary work. It feels like we are a fly on Mona’s backpack. But man the fly most definitely has the best seat in the house. The photography captures this region beautifully. This region is filled with Varda’s trees and the subject matter comes up here again in the form of a disease that is attacking a certain type of tree. This disease came over when the Americans arrived in France during WWII. Influence always affects the host, just as Mona is affected by the people that surround her.