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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Guldner

Directors I love: Agnès Varda

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

Sandrine Bonnaire with Agnès Varda- Vagabond(1985)

Sandrine Bonnaire and the Queen of New Wave Cinema Agnes Varda

Agnès Varda was the forerunner to the French New Wave. In 1954 Varda began with La Pointe Courte her first feature-length film that followed inspiration, not a typical Hollywood narrative, or screenplay. Agnès Vada set out for something completely different than what French audiences had been accustomed to before. Varda was creating cinematic writing coming from visual emotion, sound, and feelings. Agnès Varda is a visionary and a pioneer who coined the term cinècriture- meaning never writing a scenario someone else can shoot.

An auteur such as Varda is the author of her films. Even with her successes in France and the United States, she continues to shoot low-budget films and raises the funds for all of her projects each time she makes a documentary or a feature-length film, yet she always collaborates with cast and crew to make an indelible portrait of the human condition.

In 1985 Varda made one of her most beloved and successful films. Sans Toit Ni Loi(Without a Roof or a Law) and as we know this film in the States as Vagabond.The film's opening scene is the death of Mona played by Sandrine Bonnaire. Mona lays dead in an open ditch along the road. Police officers begin to gather clues into who she was in life.  From this point on the film looks at Mona from the point of view of the people she had met along the way to her death. Citizen Kane(1941) follows a similar structure to Vagabond as both films are creating a structural portrait from the point of view of how others each saw the main character. The first time  I watched Vagabond I remember thinking never had a watched a character who you had empathy for yet could not ever really understand.  Mona was dirty, lonely, and on a quest for complete and total freedom. Filming Mona with wide shots of the open landscape in France we see the beauty of the open road against Mona's fragility in the cold landscape and the way her life unfolds without structure.

Varda's documentaries such as Faces, Places (2017) a collaboration with J.R. a photographer and muralist, and her 2017 Academy Honorary Award she received, make her unstoppable at 89 years young. Varda's documentaries and films help us to look past the constructed social archetypes and see people in all of their flaws and glory. Varda's cinema is of life and the richness of people on their own terms. Never a Hollywood ending or clichè but an inspiration to all filmmakers who strive to write their own visual story in an authentic way.

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