DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

Varda by Agnes (Varda par Agnès)

Agnès Varda's latest documentary essay takes us on a trip through her incredible career in this skilfully delivered primer - on BFI Player, Mubi and Amazon Prime in May 2023

In Agnès Varda’s new documentary essay, which premieres today at Berlinale, the director returns again to a theme that has run throughout her work: herself. Varda by Agnès is a feature-length keynote with the French New Wave pioneer, who takes the audience on a journey through her films, stylistic choices, and changing themes.

It’s also a person reflecting on their 60-year career, from beginnings as a photographer, through successes and failures, her marriage to Jacques Demy who she loved very much, and her willingness to explore alternative mediums. It’s a mighty rejoinder to the Nolan/Tarantino shoot-on-film-only freaks that one of cinema’s great formal innovators is so open to adapting to new technologies, to see how they can bring her closer to the world.

It’s a primer for those who have discovered her work since Faces Places (which, along with her iconic image has made her an online darling). Varda has always been a master of controlling her own image, of exploring how people see and are seen. She muses on her production of the Jane Birkin film Kung-Fu Master (1988) alongside Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988) about what it meant to create portraits of another person which were also portraits of herself.

Part of why she’s such a source of fascination is that she’s never depicted herself as a tortured artist or intense genius, as so many writer/directors do. She’s self aware and good humoured about her work, but its this view of the self as only separated by the camera lens, so her films always feel like a trip directly into her interior monologue.

Part of me wondered if this film is a response to the increasingly memed version of her – a cardboard cut out likeness that toured along with Faces Places (2017) and became a must-selfie-with item, for example. She reclaims her own image and recycles it, which is effectively what Varda by Agnès is. Varda says as much herself in the section on one of her greatest films The Gleaners & I (2000). In that film, she realised that through following gleaners that she was herself one, recycling the stuff of life for film. Varda by Agnès is doing just the same with her own cinema, punctuating her life story with choice movie moments.

It’s expertly done, and it is a joy to revisit one of the greatest and most consistent filmographies in the history of European cinema, but if you are already familiar with Varda’s work this doesn’t tell you much that you don’t already know. As another capper to cement an already certain legacy though, we should be thankful for Varda Par Agnès as we are for the woman herself.

Varda by Agnès premiered at Berlinale, when this piece was originally written. On BFI Player, Mubi and Amazon Prime in May 2023.

By Ben Flanagan - 13-02-2019

Ben’s a Bristol-based critic and podcaster who’s trying to watch and read everything, possibly at the expense of human interaction, definitely at the expense of his own sanity. Having graduated fr...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
Sexual diversity is at the very heart of [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Films quotes are very powerful not just because [Read More...]

Read More

Faces Places (Visages Villages)

Agnès Varda and JR

Victor Fraga - 06-09-2018

The shining facets of filmmaking! Two very subversive artists of different media (film and photography) and very distant generations join forces in order to create a lawless tribute to spontaneity and ephemerality - in cinemas Friday, September 21st [Read More...]

The influence of casino culture on Hollywood


Marina Hillquist - 21-07-2024

Marina Hillquist investigates the recent history of casinos in mainstream cinema, and reveals the achievements, the challenges and also the dark side of gambling in film [Read More...]

Cheryl’s favourite dirty movies


Cheryl Cooper - 20-07-2024

Our young reader Cheryl Cooper selects six dirty films of various genres that allow for a very intense, memorable cinema experience [Read More...]