In Varda's Life
The Beaches of Agnès is an autobiographical film, something I confess to seeing very little of, if at all -- but if this documentary of Agnès Varda by Agnès Varda is any kind of example, I would love to see more. Varda lets her imagination run, loosely adhering to a chronolgical timeline but completely open to digressions and asides, assembling the work out of archive footage, newly shot "re-enactments," plenty of interview snippets and her own storytelling, plus generally anything else that comes to mind.
Varda allows her memory to unfold as if it were dropping puzzle pieces, then lets us sort through them and soak in what they contain; and when one thinks about how many disparate "pieces" had to be put together to create a cohesive work, one realizes how masterfully edited it is. Far from being self-indulgent, much of the film is about the many people Varda met and how she remembers them (usually fondly), from her family to the people involved in her first movie La Pointe-Courte, from her fellow French New Wave artists to, especially, her late husband, the director Jacques Demy.
Demy is actually the focus for a significant portion of the film, and the tenderness expressed when Varda speaks of him comes across as quite touching. I find a project like The Beaches of Agnès something of a treasure, not only because it's 79-year-old Varda's clearheaded reflection on herself, an acclaimed filmmaker, but also because it places the times she's lived through in a context, making the moments in those decades come alive.
This film is as whimsically entertaining as Varda is personable, and that's a major bonus. We should all be so lucky to have the chance to make movies about our own lives when we're much older; and as one of the lucky ones, Varda wastes no opportunity to provide a fun, humble, and shining entry.
(Released by Cinema Guild; not rated by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.