The cinematic community became a little duller when matriarch Agnès Varda passed away earlier this year. Varda’s unique outlook on life included genuine kindness for the world around her which inspired the lens and methodologies she used to stitch a piece of herself into each project she created. Varda by Agnès is no different in this approach. It is a final memo to us — a bittersweet note that is full of playful nostalgia, tender emotions, and wise advice for aspiring filmmakers and cinephiles.
The runtime of Varda by Agnès is made up of clips from a talk Varda gave about her career at various locations. She sits on the different stages, always in her directing chair marked ‘AGNES V.’ on the back, an image that is now well-known to those who love her. The director starts off talking about three words — inspiration, motivation, and sharing. These three words were the leading force for Varda through her decades of work and she bestows on their enchantment to the audience and by extension the film’s viewers, as a parting gift.
The obvious place to start when discussing Varda’s filmography is her 1961 classic, Cléo from 5 to 7. Though fictional, the story takes elements from reality — such as the collective fears of cancer and the war the current generation was facing. From here, Varda talks about a few more of her known works — such as Le Bonheur — as well as her less popular — like Lions Love (…and Lies) and One Hundred and One Nights. Varda is honest and open, stating personal anecdotes that add more charm to her already charismatic and prolific filmography.
Though Varda by Agnès will pull at the heartstrings of her admirers — serving as Varda’s last film before death — it will forever be a great introduction to Agnès Varda: as a person, as an artist, and as an inspiring force. Each frame that appears in Varda by Agnès is done so to conjure sentimentality for those who have seen whatever story she is mentioning and to birth want in those who have yet to see the glorious sunflowers in the opening credits of Le Bonheur, the rough and rugged performance of young Sandrine Bonnaire in Vagabond, or the beach in the middle of a Parisian street for The Beaches of Agnès.
Personally, the whimsical moments of Varda by Agnès pierced my heart with all the joyous feelings that could possibly be felt at once. Varda’s quirky personality is on full display as she welcomes all who watch into her presence as friends. She is a master of her craft, a fearless artist who worked in multiple facets of the film and visual art medium.
Varda by Agnès might be a parting gift from the master but she is not dead. Varda once said “I live in cinema. I feel I have lived here forever.” I believe this to be true. The one and only Agnès Varda will continue to exist eternally in her own work and the projects of those who are inspired by her approach to the medium.
Merci beaucoup, Agnès.