My Top 5 Essential Agnès Varda Films

Agnès Varda at 86 years of age. (Screenshot/Vimeo)
Agnès Varda at 86 years of age. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Agnès Varda is to be awarded the honorary Palme d’Or at the closing ceremony of this years Cannes Film Festival. Being a fan of her films, this is music to my ears.

The award has only ever been given to three directors in the past: Bernardo Bertolucci, Woody Allen, and Clint Eastwood. It recognizes the director’s whole body of work and the impact it has world-wide. Varda will be the first woman to receive the award.


Agnès Varda in the 50s (Screenshot/YouTube)

In the last 50 years, Agnès Varda has made some of the most thought-provoking films in cinema.

Termed as the mother and sometimes grandmother of French wave, she made the type of film that five years later Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Goddard would begin to make. Her films started out as very highly stylised. And prior to this she spent her early years as a photographer.

She then moved into documentary, and the way she explores the world and the characters within is also highly self-reflective. She focuses on characters who are marginalized or on the edges of society. She really gives her unique perspective on the world in a gentle, curious, and non-judgmental way. And that’s why I find her work everlasting.

Here are my essential 5 Agnès Varda films:

1. ‘La Pointe Courte’ (1954)

La Pointe Courte (Screenshot/YouTube)

‘La Pointe Courte.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

This is Varda’s debut film, and is a graceful penetrating study of marriage on the rocks. It is off the chart in terms of striking visual aesthetics.

The film is set in the seaside village of La Pointe Courte, the birthplace of the husband who struggles to understand his bored Paris-born wife.


2. ‘Cléo From 5 to 7’ (1961)

Cléo from 5 to 7 (Screenshot/YouTube)

‘Cléo From 5 to 7.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

Cléo, a selfish French singer, is anxious to get results back from her doctor, believing she has cancer and will die of the disease.

We follow her for two hours while she cruises through the streets of Paris visiting friends who fail to give her the emotional support she needs. She finds comfort talking to a soldier in a park on leave from the Algerian War; his troubles put hers in perspective.


3. ‘Jacquot de Nantes’ (1991)

Jacquot De Nantes (Screenshot/YouTube)

‘Jacquot de Nantes.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

A collaboration between Varda’s husband Jacques Demy and herself as she recreates his early life, with fictional sections and a brief documentary that involves the dying Demy.

“His childhood was his treasure,” his wife and filmmaker expresses in a deeply heartfelt moment. Demy passed away prior to its release, resulting in a sort of uneasy combination of swan song and elegy.


4. ‘The Gleaners and I’ (2001)

The Gleaners and I (Screenshot/YouTube)

‘The Gleaners and I.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

Agnes Varda was inspired by an 1867 painting by Jean-Francois Millet. She went to the French countryside to videotape people who scavenge.

Taking everything from surplus in the fields, to rubbish in trashcans, to oysters washed up after a storm. Gleaners range from those sadly in need to those hoping to recreate the community activity of centuries past. Varda’s amusing narration is what makes this for me.


5. ‘Cinevardaphoto’ (2004)

Cinevardaphoto (Screenshot/YouTube)

‘Cinevardaphoto.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

Okay this is three powerful shorts in one (and worth sneaking all three on the list). It demonstrates Varda’s lifelong fascination with photography, and the ways we create, value and interpret photographs.

Ydessa, the Bears and etc. is about a curator’s peculiar collection of pictures of people with teddy bears. Salut les Cubains is the oldest of the three films from 1963 looks at the revolution via a photo exhibit some 10 years on. Ulysse is an examination from 1982 of a photo Varda took in the 1950s—this one is superb.

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