This profile of filmmaker Agnès Varda brings fresh perspectives missing from her autobiographical work, as it covers her oeuvre spanning from her emergence in the French New Wave to acclaimed works such as Vagabond and The Gleaners and I.
Agnès Varda was a pioneer of personal cinema. So, you might think, what is left to explore in her life that she didn’t cover herself? It turns out, there’s quite a lot. Pierre-Henri Gibert, a documentarian specializing in cinema history, chronicles her expansive career, embodying her curiosity and whimsy, but filling in notable gaps from films such as The Beaches of Agnès and Varda by Agnès.
The documentary conducts intimate interviews with Varda’s family members, friends, and co-conspirators while uncovering rare archival material. Film historians often group Varda with the French New Wave, but her work had a unique radicalism. She was the only woman director of that cohort and she preceded the men with her first feature, 1955’s La Pointe Courte. Her next film, 1962’s Cléo from 5 to 7, followed a woman wandering Paris and exemplified a penchant for blending fiction and documentary. Gibert brings deeper context to the personal factors that fed into her work, including her long and complex relationship with filmmaker Jacques Demy.
Beyond the normal struggles of an independent filmmaker, Varda faced an extra layer of patriarchy. She persevered by establishing her own production company, Ciné-Tamaris, run today by her daughter Rosalie Varda. We gain better appreciation for the factors that led her to be rediscovered in the 21st century with documentaries such as The Gleaners and I and Faces Places (TIFF ’17).
For long stretches of her career, Varda lacked the exposure she deserved. Now many efforts are underway to correct that, including at TIFF Bell Lightbox where we are inaugurating the new Varda Lounge.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival