High Museum of Art: Films


The Beaches of Agnes by Linda Dubler
Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda

Just when I thought that I had exhausted every beach-related film theme apart from D-Day, along comes the American release of Agnes Varda’s latest autobiographical film, The Beaches of Agnes. Regulars to the High’s annual spring series French Film Yesterday and Today may remember that we showed Varda’s  similarly personal The Gleaners and I a few years back.

If Beaches doesn’t open commercially in Atlanta (it’s playing now in New York) , I’ll certainly include it in our 2010 edition of FFY&T. But spring is a long way off, so I’ll share a few impressions of the film now.

Though women played a major role as muses to the French New Wave of the 1960s (think Jean Moreau, Anna Karina, and Catherine Deneuve), Agnes Varda was the only female  director in that influential movement. She began her career as a still photographer, taking family photos in a Paris department store to support herself. When she felt the need to add words to her images, she turned to filmmaking.

The elfin Varda, now 81, introduces herself as a someone acting the role of a pleasingly plump old lady, a sly way of letting us know that fantasy and embellishment count as much as documentary truth in her playbook. Standing on the shore with the waves pounding behind her, Varda tells us that she believes that people hold landscapes inside themselves. “If we opened me up we’d find beaches,” she says.  Surrounding her are myriad production assistants, setting up mirrors in the sand. These mirrors capture the water (fluid and changing as memory) and announce the introspective, reflective, and fragmented form that her film will take.

One view of artists is that they externalize what’s inside, and that’s what Varda does here. The Beaches of Agnes is a film about memory, love, friendship and art-making. Visits to her childhood home in Belgium (now occupied by a collector of toy trains), and to the Parisian courtyard that was home to her first film studio, are interwoven with clips from many of her films, including what I think are her two best, Cleo From 5 to 7 and Vagabond (an unflinching, much more austere companion to the recent Wendy and Lucy).

Potato Heart from "The Gleaners and I"

Potato Heart from "The Gleaners and I"

Friends and lovers make their appearances, sometimes disguised, as Chris Marker is behind his trademark cartoon cat, and sometimes revealed, as is her husband and greatest love, Jacques Demy, the director most famous for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. “All the dead lead back to him,” Varda says, and she shows her heart in scenes from his films and her own. She wears her heart on her sleeve in the photos she’s made over the years of heart-shaped potatoes, which she later assembled into an installation at the Venice Biennale. Surely her fascination with these gnarled bits of nourishment is evidence of Agnes’s gift for finding the language of love in the humblest places, and the gift of beauty wherever she turns her antic vision.

Linda Dubler

The Beaches of Agnes

Just when I thought that I had exhausted every beach related film theme apart from D-Day, along comes the American release of Agnes Varda’s latest autobiographical film, The Beaches of Agnes. Regulars to the High’s annual spring series French Film Yesterday and Today may remember that we showed Varda’s  similarly personal The Gleaners and I a few years back; if Beaches doesn’t open commercially in Atlanta (it’s playing now in New York) , I’ll certainly include it in our 2010 edition of FFY&T. But spring is a long way off, so I’ll share a few impressions of the film now.

Though women played a major role as muses to the French New Wave of the 1960s (think Jean Moreau, Anna Karina, and Isabelle Adjani), Agnes Varda was the only female  director in that influential movement. She began her career as a still photographer, taking family photos in a Paris department store to support herself. When she felt the need to add words to her images, she turned to filmmaking. The elfin Varda, now 81, introduces herself as a someone acting the role of a pleasingly plump old lady, a sly way of letting us know that fantasy and embellishment count as much as documentary truth in her playbook. Standing on the shore with the waves pounding behind her, in the midst of  assistants who are setting up all sorts of mirrors in the sand, Varda tells us that she believes that people hold landscapes inside themselves, and that “If we opened me up we’d find beaches.”  The mirrors that surround her capture the water (fluid and changing as memory) and announce the introspective, reflective, and fragmented form that her film will take.

One view of artists is that they externalize what’s inside, and that’s what Varda does here. Visits to her childhood home in Belgium (now occupied by a collector of toy trains), and to the Parisian courtyard that was home to her first film studio, are interwoven with clips from many of her films, including what I think are her two best, Cleo From 5 to 7 and Vagabond (an unflinching, much more austere companion to the recent Wendy and Lucy).

Friends and lovers make their appearances, sometimes disguised, as Chris Marker is behind his trademark cartoon cat, sometimes revealed, as is her husband and greatest love, Jacques Demy, the director most famous for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. “All the dead lead back to him,” Varda says, and she shows her heart in clips from his films and her own. So too, she wears her heart on her sleeve in the photos she’s made over the years of heart shaped potatoes, which she later assembled into an installation at the Venice Biennale. Surely her fascination with these gnarled bits of nourishment, are evidence of Agnes’s gift for finding the language of love in the humblest places, and the gift of beauty whereven she turns her antic vision.


Potato heart

A potato heart from The Gleaners and I


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Nice article. Varda is a fascinating figure, and “The Beaches of Agnes” is a neat little documentary. It’s inspiring to see that her energy and inquisitiveness about the world around her hasn’t abated, even at the age of 82.

Comment by Atlanta Movies Examiner

[…] Read the High Museum’s blog post about The Beaches of Agnes […]

Pingback by Literary Birthdays – Week of May 30 – June 5, 2010 « Literary Birthdays Blog




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: