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Agnes Varda (#110 of 19)

Two by Agnès Varda Kung-Fu Master! and Jane B. par Agnès V.

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Two by Agnès Varda: Kung-Fu Master! and Jane B. par Agnès V.

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Two by Agnès Varda: Kung-Fu Master! and Jane B. par Agnès V.

Toward the end of Jane B. par Agnès V., Jane Birkin turns to Agnès Varda, who sits on a staircase while stroking a cat, and says: “Why don’t we shoot a family project?” An initial irony emerges: Jane B. par Agnès V. is already a family project, staging Birkin’s life as a “public fantasy” or “an imaginary biopic,” as Varda later called it, in order to explore the many dimensions of Birkin’s star persona. However, a further irony takes hold once the pair starts batting around ideas. They settle on a premise where Birkin’s character, a 40-year-old single mom, will fall for the 14-year-old friend of her daughters, to be played by Mathieu Demy, Varda’s real-life son.

This brief premise is the basic narrative for Kung-Fu Master!, a film Varda made in tandem with this one, and the final irony, within the course of Jane B. par Agnès V., is that sequences from the other film play over their discussion of various, imagined scenes. The effect is something of a paradox, since there are two characters conceptualizing something that is already fully formed and completed. Their imaginings of what the film might look manifest as actual scenes from the other film. In all likelihood, Varda shot Kung-Fu Master! first, then shot and cut Jane B. par Agnès V. with the retroactive knowledge of what lay ahead, which would make it, in effect, a kind of prequel, for lack of a better term, to the other film.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Diego Costa’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Diego Costa’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Diego Costa’s Top 10 Films of All Time

I can identify two elements common to the films that ended up on this list. They are either about feminine suffering and/or about the impossibility of language to ever quite translate feeling. The criteria which I came up with for this impossible, unfair, and incredibly fun assignment involved remembering the films that led me to think “This is one of the best films ever made” at the time I first saw them, and which, upon a re-screening, several years later, remained just as remarkable—perhaps for different reasons. Also part of the criteria was my (failed) attempt at not repeating directors, and making a conscious effort to go against a cinematic “affirmative action” that would try to represent different periods of time, countries, and genres. It’s also mind-boggling to notice how half of the list includes films made in the mid 1970s. But the list escapes traditional logic. It’s the warping, re-signifying logic of affect and memory that architected this list, which turns out to be nothing short of this cinephile’s symptom.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Elise Nakhnikian’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Elise Nakhnikian’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Elise Nakhnikian’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but the most creative periods for the movies seem to occur about every 30 years, usually triggered by the advent of some new technology. First came that short burst of experimentation by people like Georges Méliès during the last few years of the 19th century, right after the medium was invented. The latest is the digital revolution that started around the turn of this century, making it possible for almost anyone to make a movie (and enabling a whole new level of intimacy between filmmaker and subject) by eliminating the need for expensive film processing and slashing the cost and size of professional-quality cameras. But my favorite golden age is the one that stretched from the late ’20s to the early ’40s in Hollywood. Old pros who’d cut their teeth on countless shorts showed us what could be done with silent film while upstarts like Howard Hawks and the Marx Brothers played with synchronous sound, that shiny new toy, in movies crammed to the brim with fast, funny talk. That probably explains why half of my 10 favorites were made during a 14-year period that ended as WWII began.

A Movie a Day, Day 80: The Gleaners and I

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A Movie a Day, Day 80: <em>The Gleaners and I</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 80: <em>The Gleaners and I</em>

Like The Beaches of Agnès, The Gleaners and I is a lightfooted meditation from an aging master so comfortable with her medium that her work feels like play. Hopscotching from one French town or agricultural center to the next, Agnès Varda leads us on a seriously joyful journey of discovery in The Gleaners and I, which winds up covering a lot of ground despite its apparently spontaneous structure.

Varda shot much of the film herself with a then-new compact digital video camera (the film was released in 2001), which she shows it off early on with typical enthusiasm. Her ultra-portable camera and skeleton crew (the list of credits is impressively small for such a big name) presumably helped her gain access to the many gleaners she interviews, but I bet it was her unfeigned interest that got them to open up the way they do. As Varda says in the film, she’s fascinated by gleaners because she is one, though she gathers “images, impressions” rather than furniture or food.