Berlinale 2019: 'Varda by Agnès' is an Inspiring Chat with a Storyteller
by Alex Billington
February 13, 2019
"If we opened people up, we'd find landscapes." Agnès Varda is a genuine master. She is unquestionably of the greatest filmmakers, storytellers, and artists to ever live - there's really no debating this. It may have taken decades for everyone to catch up with and learn about her (and discover her work), but now we all know the truth, and gosh darnity she's still making more films (even at age 90). Varda by Agnès is a new documentary made by Agnès Varda looking back at her entire life as a filmmaker and artist. It's a beautiful examination of the inspiration and explanations behind some of her work (in cinema & in art) she created throughout her life. She has an immaculate understanding of cinema, and shares some of her insights here (but not all of them, of course) and it's an utter joy to watch her talk for nearly two hours. Varda is the best.
Varda by Agnès is somewhat of a spiritual sequel to Faces, Places (or Visages, Villages), the documentary film Agnès made with JR a few years ago that received endless acclaim (and an Oscar nomination). Inspired by her work on that film, this documentary has a light-hearted, joyful, amusing vibe to it, but doesn't involve JR at all. It's all Agnès, and it's all about her work and her life and her creativity. It features clips and scenes from many of her past films, as well as footage of her at various talks and presentations in the last few years. She spends the entire time talking about envisioning, making, and sharing art - mainly cinema - and exactly what it was that inspired her to make each film and the decisions she made along the way. Much like fellow filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, I love listening to Agnès talk - about anything. But especially about cinema.
What makes this film particularly inspiring is how comfortably and how openly she talks about everything that drives her as a creative person. Throughout her entire life, she has done whatever she wants to do. She makes films, and tells stories, and lives her life the way she wants and does so effortlessly. This film doesn't get into her early years nor does it waste any time trying to explain how she does this, because she doesn't much like talking about herself as much as she enjoys talking about her experiences - all the people she has met, and how they have influenced and inspired her. And she expresses herself so clearly, describing exactly what it takes to be inspired, and exactly how she took this person and created a film about them. She cuts all this together in a way that makes this documentary drift along so smoothly, without much of any downtime.
I'm sure some cinephiles might complain about Varda by Agnès because it's not an intensely meticulous or deeply introspective look at her as a filmmaker. Sure, it's all fairly surface-level discussion and it's not the most in-depth analysis or anything, but I don't mind. She's just wonderful. And that kind of analysis is meant for books and museums anyway. Much of the footage in this is bits and pieces of easy-digestible talks she has given in person cut together into an exuberant two hour presentation. Agnès Varda is true master filmmaker & storyteller, who expresses her love for people so perfectly through her work. She is remarkably attuned to the technicalities of cinema, and the power of the moving image, and has proven this with her body of work - allowing us a chance to understand her process through some basic explanations in this doc.
Honestly, it's utterly delightful and endlessly inspiring to listen to her talk about cinema and to tell stories about her life, and the many great people who left an unforgettable impression on her. In return, she has graciously shared their stories and their humanity with all of us - through cinema, by creating art. Varda by Agnès is a sublime, sincere look back at all that he has accomplished and created. It seems to be an attempt to encapsulate her life's work and provide a guide for those that wish to follow in her footsteps as artists, teaching us through her enduring wisdom how to find genuine inspiration, and how to create great works of art with the ever-important goal of sharing it with everyone. All hail the effervescent Agnès Varda, who has solidified her everlasting legacy in cinema and will always be remembered for all her humility and ingenuity.
Alex's Berlinale 2019 Rating: 9 out of 10
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