Just Did It: Agnes Varda’s ‘The Beaches of Agnes’

The first film I saw of Agnes Varda’s was Cleo from 5 to 7. It was her first film too. I was immersed headily into my film analysis classes and anything French and black and white was my fancy.
There was something clear about Agnes Varda after that first screening: I really dug what she did.

Years later, I came across another of her films, a documentary called The Gleaners and I, as I was attending another set of film analysis classes, these geared toward the documentary. Her story telling vehicle had changed from fiction to fact, the black and white to color, from film to video and many more years had passed in her life than mine.

Yet, I recognized a pacing, some movement and gestures that reminded me of Varda’s 1962 Cleo. I was fascinated by the film, telling everyone that they must see it and determined that The Gleaners and I would portend the structure, mood and style of my upcoming master’s thesis film. My professors denied me the attempt to create something that they called ‘too sophisticated’ for a graduate student. I pouted, I protested, and I made a film their way to ensure graduation. And I pined for another Varda film. A few years later, in fact just last night, I got to see one.

How funny that so much of The Beaches of Agnes has to do with aging, with memory, with walking backwards through your life and looking at it in pictures (some moving, some not) and as paintings, as visions and fantasies, as fiction and fake versions of reality. I can remember myself through the viewing of each of these films: at 20, at 26, at 32. Varda, at 80, was the sole female cohort in the French Nouvelle Vague movement of the 1960s and married a co-member, the director Jacques Demy. She honors the traditions of that movement while she continues to bombard the senses with colorful, mind-tripping loops straight through her life and she fully digresses, she admits to the audience, only once. Her other ‘digressions’ are minor and make for astonishing story arcs that weave their way throughout decades of her dance with le cinema. She weaves footage shot specifically for The Beaches with footage from all her old films, photographs she took decades before, home videos, art installations, and archival historical footage. She is bright: a wordsmith as much as a photographer, a conceptual artist as much as a documentarian, a mother as much as a wife. She is compelling in her dedication to capturing the nuance of life and she shares my love of beaches. And at 80, we listen to her, because she knows. She remembers.

Posted by: Autumn.


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