Agnes Varda has been making delightfully provocative personal cinema for over 50 years. The Godmother of the New Wave is now the guiding angel of independent cinema (see my article on her here) and Faces Places is yet another gem to add to her glittering collection.
Teaming up – for the first time ever – with a co-director in the form of 35-year-old hip French street artist JR. Agnes, now 90, pootles around France in a mobile photo booth taking snaps of villagers (the film’s French title is Visages Villages) and watching as JR magnifies them 100 times and then plasters the images like giant billboards on buildings, house, freight containers and factories.
It’s as if these villagers, workers, fishing and mining families thus reclaim their towns, stamping their identities on the houses and buildings that have been their homes but which, for economic reason, they feel increasingly distanced from.
The delight of the film lies in it interactions – the villagers with the film makers and with themselves and their own images; in Varda’s wry narration; and in her banter with the much younger though always sweetly respectful JR.
Varda’s unique blend of observation, humanism and optimism builds along quirky, almost comic lines but crescendoes to something more moving, a personal memoir and journey that leads all the way to the hideaway home of Jean-Luc Godard and a climax that is as surprising as it is gently heartbreaking.
If you’ve never seen a Varda film, this pearl of documentary is a great place to start. I can’t recommend it highly enough, nor love it more.