For weeks I have been going through Agnes Varda’s filmography (at least part of it… see my Gleaners and I post for more on that subject) and it comes to an end today with this magical film. What a way to end a study on a one director’s life than a film that wraps up her life and work while establishing that she is very much alive and full of ideas, theories and life.
The Beaches of Agnes uses the beaches (a favorite location of hers) that frame each stage of her life to tell her story. But it is more than just her story. It is the story of the French New Wave, the story of her lover Jacques Demy, the story of her children and the story of all the famous and not so famous artists that she has met along the way. Each person is treated with gentle kindness and affection. Even the famous recluse Chris Marker is given a cat avatar and a distorted voice to respect his need for anonymity while still giving him a place in her film. Her interaction with that animated cat and distorted voice betrays an intimate relationship that she has had with him for some time. Each person that makes an appearance either in bodily form or through her art (like her photographs of famous stage actors) is given the same respect and gentleness. She doesn’t just use these figures to tell her story but have them tell their own as well. This is the case especially with the story of Jacques Demy, her lover and best friend. Jacques died in the early nineties from AIDS and he looms over this film as a loving ghost. She tells the story of how they met, how they lived, why they lived, what drove them to respect each other’s art from a distance and how they celebrated his life right before he died. The story of how she made his life into a film with him constantly on set overseeing it was incredibly touching. Only Agnes Varda would do this for her lover.
Agnes says at one point in the film while standing in a house made out of old discarded film strips that she has lived her life in cinema. I could not agree with her more. I wish my life will turn out at least half as well as Agnes’ life has. She is a whimsical person that still has her sense of play about her even after she has seen everyone around her fade away. She is a great filmmaker who will always have an impact on my life. I guess that is the best way to end this retrospective. I hope she continues to make beautiful films for many more years to come. Happy Belated Birthday Agnes Varda. You are amazing.