Cannes 2017: Making Connections in Agnès Varda & JR's 'Faces, Places'
by Alex Billington
May 21, 2017
Sometimes there's a film that is so delightful, so cheerful, full of so much optimism and happiness and joy, that it completely changes your mood. You can be upset, or tired, or whatever, and by the end of this film you're so happy. Nothing will take that happiness away. Everything you just saw was perfect and wonderful. That's how I felt with this film at the Cannes Film Festival, called Visages, Villages, which translates to Faces, Places in English. The film is a documentary made by 88-year-old filmmaker Agnès Varda and the 34-year-old French photographer known as "JR". They not only directed it, but it's about their unlikely friendship and collaboration on a road trip around France taking photos of people they meet along the way.
Faces, Places is a simple film and that's part of the joy of it. At some point, Agnès and JR met and became friends. He knew her films, she knew his photographs. Eventually they decided to journey around France in JR's photography van. Agnès wanted to meet more people, JR wanted to take more photos, so they set out. Everywhere they go, they would stop in small towns all around France and talk with the locals, just to hear their stories and find out more about them. JR would then take photos, they'd print them, and paste them as huge prints on the side of walls or buildings in the area. That's it. They go around doing this all over, telling different stories and meeting all kinds of unique people, regular people, hard-working people. And boy is it wonderfully refreshing to see how happy we can be when we take a moment to chat and listen to each other.
There's a very nice balance to the film and the way it unfolds. It's very lightweight, fun to watch, and easy to enjoy. Agnès and JR take turns talking through voiceover and in candid moments captured on the road trip. They also discuss how each of them has an equal say in every part of the project - choosing who to talk to, what photos to take, where to put them, and so on. It's really that simple - and through that simplicity we learn how important it is to connect with people. To talk, to listen, to hear their stories, to let them speak, to show them how beautiful they are, and why they matter, even if that just means they matter to the town they live in and the people they love. There were moments in this where I was so happy I almost started tearing up because it was so delightful to watch them meet these people and give them these brief moments of joy.
If anything, my only complaint about the film is that it has no real ending. It just sort of stops, right in the middle of a great moment, and right when I was caught up in their journey, and fully emotionally invested. I wanted it to keep going. I wanted to keep following them and learning more about all the people they were meeting. But I was still incredibly happy with the 90 minutes we did get to spend with Agnès and JR, and the little bit of rural France we did get to see. This is an utterly inspiring, gorgeous film full of happiness and optimism and connection. It's as if they captured the feeling of "delight" and packaged it as a charming little film for all to enjoy. It's the kind of film I want to share with everyone and show to everyone, so they can be moved and inspired by it as well. Mark this one down, and make sure to catch it as soon as you can. J'adore.
Alex's Cannes 2017 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing
JR's been making great work for years now. He actually did a small project with kids from my city where they pasted up their drawings at an incredible scale on some buildings. His Ted talk is pretty good too. And the 'Women are Heroes' film attached is also worth a look. I actually had a painting in a show with him in 11 Wooster Street in New York, with a whole bunch of other folks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utVmzUGbgYI
Carpola on May 21, 2017
Nice. Strange about the ending. Maybe that's what they wanted rather than give you everything.
DAVIDPD on May 22, 2017
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