Saturday, October 7, 2017

Agnès Varda's Faces Places is a Perfect Antidote for This Ugly, Ugly World

Faces Places (2017) - Varda
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You really gotta give it to Agnes Varda: at 89, our pint sized grand dame of French New Wave is still incredibly open, generous and always searching (into both past and present). In doing so she inadvertently raises some interesting questions when it comes to what constitutes public art and what's personal without bombarding us with schoolmaster rhetoric. There are also a lot of reflections in Faces Places on impermanence of human existence, art and mortality.

Varda, always keen on meeting new people and discover new things, pairs up with a 33 year old wheat pasting street artist known as JR. Together, they take a road trip to the northern French coastal towns. There they meet various working class people and their families - a postman, cafe owners, butchers, factory workers,miners, longshoremen, goat farmers and they take their pictures, print them out from the side of JR's portable printer/van and wheat paste them on the large public spaces, relate to the subject's environment.

The conversation is not always one sided- Varda doesn't have to exert herself into every story. She's fucking Agnes Varda. Things naturally come out. She's visited many many places and full of memories and mementos. In turn, JR is a jovial and energetic, and very good with dealing with elderly people (he lives with his grandma). Lanky with sunglasses glued to his face, JR reminds her of Godard and this train of thoughts plays out near the end, for better or worse.

It's not a typical light and fluffy travelogue of the rich and famous that would end up in travel channel. It's more about ordinary people. In this day and age, Varda believes in face to face human contact and genuine friendship. Except for some corny intros, Faces and Places feels very improvised and light and ultimately very touching and beautiful without trying so hard.

So they arranged the meeting with Godard. When they get there, the reclusive director and long time friend is not home. He scribbled a cryptic message with a marker on the window that upset's Varda almost to her tears. "If he tried to hurt me, he succeeded. That rat bastard!" One sentence is about the death of Jacques Demy, her husband, the other is a jab at the very same film she is making now, suggesting Faces Places is a fluffy travelogue of the bourgeoisie.

So there you have it. Godard has always been an innovative, genius filmmaker, brilliant researcher and historian, but an extremely cynical one who has long lost the ability to see the brighter side of humanity. Varda is totally opposite - completely open, transparent in what she sees and does and incredibly giving and sharing with her being. Which do we need more in this ugly world right now?

Faces and Places is a perfect antidote for the grim reports on the news these days. Please go see it.

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