Having never seen a film by the French director Agnes Varda I was somewhat apprehensive about seeing The Beaches of Agnes, a new film she has made about her own life, which is neither a documentary nor a biography but a melding of the two that becomes something very new and wonderful. Having now seen the film and been deeply touched by it I have that wonderful feeling one gets upon discovering a new favorite musician or poet, opening up undiscovered realms of art and beauty. I am very excited to see as many of her films as I possibly can and if they are anything like this wonderful collage of memories, images, fantasies and pristine moments I will feel very blessed.
Varda was a member of the Nouvelle Vague movement in France, a friend of Jean Luc Godard who had trained as a photographer but started making films because she wanted to "add words" to the images. Varda was not a film buff like Godard and Trouffaut by any means, admitting that by the time she was 25 and made her first film she had only seen around 10 films. Varda nonetheless went on to make several highly influential and beautiful films such as Cleo 5 from to 7, Vagabond and Jacquot, her ode to her husband and lover Jacques Demy, director of the legendary Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The Beaches of Agnes recounts her career and her life but not in any traditional biographical fashion. Varda repeatedly says that she loves puzzles, collages, fragmented images that come together to form a whole, and this is how she views her life. There is a beautiful shot of her on a beach with several cherished photographs in front of her which she has stuck in the sand, pictures of her and her family throughout their lives. Even though the pictures contain something almost sacred, moments made eternal, they seem so small and insignificant with the vast sea in the background, fluttering about in the strong North wind that threatens to blow them away.
This theme of a strong and beautiful whole, a life well lived with joy and love, put together with fragile parts, is a recurring theme in the film and one which relates to Varda's love of cinema. There is a beautiful scene of her in a "house of cinema" made from hundreds of film strips (Varda is also a celebrated installation artist). The sun shines through the films creating beautiful colors and images. Varda stands in the middle of this space and says: "I have lived my life in cinema." If any of this sounds pretentious or strange I assure you it is not. Varda is simply a natural poet, a person so filled with good humor and merriment and compassion for each passing moment that her life becomes a work of art, a light that shines through her films, her relationships, her loves.
Roger Ebert wrote an absolutely beautiful review of this film and I highly recommend you read it: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090302/REVIEWS/903029993
He does a much better job at capturing how joyful and wonderful this film is than I ever could. But I really do urge anyone reading this to see this film. Our lives are often so fragmented and strange and we are often unable to see the interconnectedness of the parts that make up who we are. Art helps us to do this in myriad ways and Varda's film is a wonderful example of this, a lovely ode to both the movies and life itself.