In 2002, the then 74-year-old Agnès Varda—known, perhaps reductively, as the grandmother of the French New Wave—executed a lovely feat of self-mythological reinvention called The Gleaners and I. This diary-style DV documentary provided a new context for her storied career; a playful film about aging and the march of time, it redefined her modus operandi to that of a cinematic gleaner, collecting France’s scattered stories and ephemera as if from the ground after a harvest. Her new collection Cinévardaphoto—a trio of short documentaries presented in reverse chronological order—explores this capacity for gleaning through Varda’s original medium, still photography. Ydessa, The Bears and Etc., the newest film in the triptych, chronicles a deeply eccentric woman’s museum exhibit: photos of teddy bears with their owners, stacked from floor to ceiling. In her role as collector, curator, and artist, Ydessa forges a haunting narrative of world memory, and places a frighteningly vivid sculpture of Hitler in the adjacent room to emphasize the markings of history on innocence. Varda frames the film like an essay, and through her commentary she forms an aesthetic bond with a passionate gleaner of history. Ulysses, made in 1982 and shown at Cannes a year later, recontextualizes a photo Varda took in 1954 showing a naked man, a child, and a dead goat on a seashore. Attempting to investigate the image and perhaps revise her own memory, Varda revisits her models, one of whom, the child Ulysses, seems unwilling to remember the photo, despite the fact that he painted an image of it as a child. As Varda offers personal and political commentary linking the photo with its date in history, she provides a metonymic definition of the cinema: photography given context. The final film, Salut Les Cubains, is shaped like a Chris Marker travelogue, a series of still photos representing artistic and cultural shifts in Castro’s Cuba, circa 1962-1963. Though Varda’s constant narration is unintentionally obfuscated by the placement of white subtitles on white imagery, this often confounding work still speaks volumes about the importance of context. Forty years later, the infective enthusiasm of Salut Les Cubains is tempered by the darker chapters of recent Cuban history. As Varda asserts in the press notes, the film when viewed today highlights all the sadness caused by the lost illusions, rather than the idealism and joie de vivre originally celebrated by her travelogue. Cinévardaphoto abounds in these ambiguities, highlighting a photo’s ability to freeze a moment in time while time inevitably marches on.
- Cine Tamaris
- 96 min
- Agnès Varda
- Agnès Varda
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