I didn’t discover the great filmmaker Agnès Varda; she discovered me, staring at the posters in the window of her editing suite on the Rue Daguerre in Paris. A tiny, quizzical old lady, she approached, smiling and asked, “Have you discovered something interesting?” Indeed I had! “La Varda” is one of the brilliant filmmakers to have emerged from the French “nouvelle vague.” In over 40 films, she has focused that delighted curiosity on an angry wandering woman (Vagabond), refuse collectors (The Gleaners and I), a young woman who might be dying (Cleo from 5 to 7), and the love of her life, the filmmaker Jacques Demy (Jacques de Nantes). In The Beaches of Agnès, the POV documentary about Varda that premiered on PBS last night and is now available for viewing online, she uses the camera to recreate memories from her own life in an approach blending Proustian reverie and surrealism. What a life it’s been! Starting with her childhood in Belgium, Varda takes us to the Sorbonne, revolutionary Cuba, Hollywood, the birth of the French new wave, the revolutionary '60s, through the death of Demy from AIDS, and how it feels to grow old and look back on a life that took many unexpected turns. She visits the Louvre with Jim Morrison, marches for abortion rights as a “cheerful feminist,” escapes the Hollywood studio system, and raises two children, all the while living a life of creativity. Throughout, two qualities shine through: her warmth and devotion to art. Already, some are noting the scandal of The Beaches of Agnès being ignored by the Academy in the Best Foreign Film category; apparently, recognizing one brilliant female filmmaker in 82 years was enough! Don’t make the same mistake! This film is a great introduction to the work of an artist well worth discovering, and if it is not the best documentary I’ve ever seen, it’s only because The Gleaners and I is. [Rufus Hickok]
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