Wednesday 18 October 2017

Antenna Documentary Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reports on Agnes Varda's VISAGES, VILLAGES (France, 2017)

Norton Street is getting to become the nearest thing we have to the city’s Cinematheque though that’s not their plan and they are not equipped for it. Elia Kazan’s complete America America, the Paul Grimault compilation La Table Tournante (they cropped that to wide screen) and now the new Agnes Varda Visages, villages/Faces Places have had their only local screenings there. The fact that these events are separated by years is a good indication of the state of play here.

Unlike their recent screening of Tavernier’s French movie compilation, Visages, villages/Faces Places played to an appreciative full house in their documentary festival.

I’m not sure that Visages, villages is a documentary or even a film for that matter. Rather like Norman Mailer’s 1970 Maidstone you leave it questioning how much of the claimed spontaneous material you have just seen was scripted and staged.

But I’m getting ahead. Eighty-eight year-old Agnes Varda has trouble doing the second flight of stairs and sees movement more than shape now but she is as alert and probing as ever. It’s an irresistible act. She remains one of the most endearing personalities the cinema has thrown up.

JR, Agnes Varda
The new film extends her line of essay films begun with The Gleaners and I (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, France, 2000). She’s sharing the load with performance artist JR whose act lobs somewhere between Christo and Banksy, as they tour France with a photo booth truck painted like a camera, generating life size pictures of the people they encounter that he then mounts on any flat surface he can set up - a row of condemned houses, the barn of a farmer who refuses to de-horn his
goats, a pile of shipping containers. One of the most winning moments is seeing a train pass the camera with tanker cars adorned with blown up pictures of Varda’s toes .

The pair squabble, banter and show a nice affection as the film progresses and finally Agnes offers to take her new associate off to meet his hero Jean-Luc Godard and that’s the picture.

I don’t rate this as the best of these late career Varda movies but I wouldn’t have missed it and it would be agreeable to see it reach the wider audience it deserves.

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