The Beaches of Agnes [Les Plages d'Agnes] Movie Review
As she celebrates her 80th birthday, the iconic French filmmaker compiles an impressionistic collage of photographs, home movies, new scenes and clips from the classic films she had a hand in. She recounts her career alongside Godard and the Nouvelle Vague, and links her memories together with beaches from near her birthplace in Belgium to Los Angeles by way of Cuba and Cannes. She also installs a beach on a Paris street, occupied by female members of her staff.
We expect the witty visual gags and inventive, beautiful camera work, but what's surprising is Varda's charming presence on screen. She comments that she normally films others: "Here I am playing a little old lady," she says. "It's time to be me." And what emerges along the way is a lovely connection of past and present, matching old and new footage and themes while making small observations. Much of this is like performance art, but it's also deeply personal as she assembles clips from her films that piece together her own life story.
The idea is that it takes a variety of fragments to assemble a true picture of someone, and Varda's life has been lived through the cinema. But everything she looks at leads her back to Jacques Demy, and ultimately to her children and grandchildren. Her footage of Demy as he was dying is profoundly touching ("My only option as a filmmaker was to film him"), as are scenes with her children Mathieu and Rosalie.
Varda's playful personality comes through in the film's structure, which is carefully planned out but feels organic and refreshingly oblique. The gentle pace and warm tone are punctuated by outrageously cheeky scenes that include a full circus trapeze act on a beach or clips of Paris during the war. In the end, the film is an indulgent but beautiful love letter to future generations, as Varda notes that "while I live, I remember."