The Beaches of Agnès (France; 110 min.)

directed by: Agnès Varda
Les plages d'Agnès

Bruce says: "THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS is most likely Agnès Varda’s final film.  Now in her eighties, she remains an active photographer and is continually involved in shows featuring her photographic installations.  It seems that directing is not specifically what Ms. Varda is retreating from but the other, less rewarding demands of filmmaking: raising the capital, marketing and distribution – the non-creative necessities that take up an inordinate amount of time, particularly for someone who is now measuring time as though it were the rarest resource. 

"This film is best described as a cinematic memoir of a little old lady who is self-described as pleasantly plump and talkative.  The middle child of five, Varda recalls her early childhood in Belgium.  The film begins on the beaches of the North Sea where an installation of mirrors (Varda’s tool of the self-portrait) decorated the sand and reflect both Varda and the incoming tide which ultimately envelopes them.  “If you open other people up you would find landscapes; if you open me up you would find beaches,” will be a much used quote for years to come.  According to Varda her’s is the biography of everybody.  While Varda is not shy about talking about herself she graciously includes memories of the many people who have been important in her professional and personal circles.  While visiting her childhood home in Belgium, the doctor who now lives there begins talking about his electric train collection.  Varda decided that bit of serendipity was more interesting than her visiting her old bedroom.

"She fondly recalls friends who are now gone such as Jean Vilar (founder of the Avignon Festival), Gérard Philipe, Philippe Noiret, Brassaï, Sandy Calder and her husband Jacques Demy.  The film is filled with references that many viewers may not pick up should they be unfamiliar with Varda or French Cinema, in particular the French New Wave.  For example one of Chris Marker’s cardboard cats (referring to his graffiti-laden THE CASE OF GRINNING CAT) wanders around her film as a tribute to her dear friend.  Others who have shared her life - such as her children, Yolande Moreau, Jean-Luc Godard and Jane Birkin – are very much alive.   She recalls her Greek father and French mother and childhood acquaintances but not much is said about her siblings.

As in her masterful film THE GLEANERS AND I, Varda is whimsical, thought-provoking and instructive as her stream of consciousness, unlike that of any other, hops from topic to topic, memory to memory.   Varda recalls her boat in Belgium which suddenly appears on the Seine; Varda appears in the belly of a whale made out of garbage bags; she creates a beach in the middle of a street and nonchalantly takes her place in a beach chair.  Anyone aware of her earlier films will no doubt find THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS a truly delightful, magical reverie. 5 cats  

"(THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS screened as part of the Rendezvous with French Cinema festival sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.)"

Thom says: "This was the documentary I was looking for to remind me of the vast power of cinema. Varda was the leading female director from the hugely influential French New Wave, & while I never felt she was as good as many of the male directors from the movement (Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, Louis Malle, Eric Rohmer) she has been responsible for oodles of impressive work: THE GLEANERS & I, CLEO FROM FIVE TO SEVEN, VAGABOND, ONE SINGS, THE OTHER DOESN’T, etc. In this fantastic film she focuses upon herself, her work, her history, & her philosophy. She was also married to Jacques Demy for 28 years, up to his passing in 1990. There are so many remarkable components to the film: going back & forth in time, having various actresses play her at various stages of her life, she explores her remembrances using photographs, film clips, home movies, contemporary interviews, and set pieces she conceives to portray a feeling, a time, or a frame. In each and every scene and frame we feel her delightful, mischievous allure, resourcefulness, and innate compassion. A must see for those interested in French cinema. This is a possibility for my TOP 10 FILMS of 2009! 5 cats"