Life and Film Lessons from Agnès Varda


 

“The world is in a very bad shape, but cinema in a way is a peaceful life.”

 
 
Forerunner of La nouvelle vague, who kept breaking new ground with each new film, be it experimental, documentary or fiction, Agnès Varda always fought for cinematic independence and cinematic vision. She made movies that came from emotion and feeling, movies that had a vital energy because they came from a perpetual urge to create (without compromise, without concerns of good production values) and a perpetual joy in filming. Agnès Varda was always interested in now and here. In seeing. In finding beauty where maybe it’s not. Maybe that’s why throughout her entire work she remained free to experience with all senses the cinematic adventure. Her films gave shape and words to things people have seen and thought without having even realised they have seen and thought. She used cinema as a language. Making each film was a way of living on.

She was in the wave of the New Wave, pioneering a new way of cinema, in tone and style, with her first film, La Pointe Courte, from 1955. In Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), a beautiful and frivolous singer abruptly becomes vulnerable and has to face reality, life and death, who goes from being happy for being watched to finally waking up and seeing the world. In The Gleaners and I (2000), Varda showed people who lived apart from other people, who eat out of dumpsters and glean provincial fields after harvest, who make art from tossed-away furniture, poor people not speaking badly, behaving badly, or grumbling, but who speak intelligently, without pity or complaint. Jacquot de Nantes (1991) was a documentary about her husband, Jacques Demy, “he’s a child, it’s a fiction, he dreams about making movies, he’s an adult, it’s a documentary, he had made movies”. Each film different from the next, yet each one born out of her reality, her thoughts, her passions, her.

I’ve been diving into Agnès Varda’s universe these days, watching and re-watching her films, along with her husband Jacques Demy’s, and reading about her. Agnès Varda Interviews is a good start, very organic in its composition as it guides you through her films and evolution of her as a filmmaker, and there are so many thoughts on life, and creativity, and freedom, and artistic freedom, and film-making to take away from it.

Stay safe everyone!
 

La Pointe Courte, 1955 | Ciné Tamaris

 
 

Life

 

“The world is in a very bad shape, but cinema in a way is a peaceful life.”

“What culture means is that we are able to associate real things, nature, paintings we have seen, music we have heard, a book we have read, a film we saw, with our real life, our emotional life, which means a lot.”

“I know people like that, I know people who aren’t acquisitive, people for whom bettering their situation isn’t everything.”

“If a thing exists as a common denominator among people, then that’s culture.”

 

Film-making

 
“I never make a film that people ask me to do or bring me a package with a good book and two actors and all that. I think cinema should be made by coming from nowhere to becoming a film. This I believe in. And that’s why I made so few films.”

“It’s through feelings that we can capture the attention of the audience and then engage them for themselves.”

“I didn’t see myself as a woman, as a courageous woman, I saw myself as a courageous artist, a filmmaker, because nobody was making films at my age at the time – men or women. The young New Wave came later.”

“I am not modest enough. And not militant enough. And too egotistical. I still participate in a burgeons culture in which a film is made by an artist.”

“I try to be very clever in the editing room. But when I film, I try to be very instinctive.”

 

Hollywood

 
“I make films, not deals.”

“They are unable to distinguish between Lelouche’s Cousin Cousine and me. Godard’s A Man and a Woman, Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Malle’s Murmurs of the Heart, and my film Le Bonheur are all the same for them – charming little films.”

“I really don’t like it that aside from a few directors (Cassavetes, Cimino, despite his politics) I find the American cinema a pretty sorry affair. […] Hollywood cinema remains profoundly conservative, profoundly stupid, and often painful.”

 

Feminism

 
“When I made my first film, La Pointe courte, no one said it was a minor film because I was a woman. Instead they said “You are perhaps changing something in the French cinema and it’s good.” So I never suffered any alienation as a woman in my work.”

“I didn’t ask myself if it would be difficult for me as a woman to make films; I must say I didn’t start with an inferiority complex. I just thought I would like to make films, so try.”

“You don’t have to say “Because I am a woman I should absolutely make feminist films because the feminist point of view is not generally exposed.””

“I am a human being and some things can be understood as a human being. You don’t have to emphasize all the time you are a woman.”

“If I can have a woman I take her. If there is a man who does the job better I take the man. It’s in terms of needing good people to make movies.”
 
 
More stories: Ennio Morricone, In His Own Words / Jacques Demy in Black & White and His Quiet Heroines / A Third Face: Life and Film Lessons from Samuel Fuller

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