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Film Club: The Beaches of Agnes

Agnes Varda Looks Back on Her Life

Above: Agnes Varda looks at her life and the people in it in "The Beaches of Agnes"

Audio

Aired 10/30/09

The KPBS Film Club of the Air discusses the "Beaches of Agnes."

Transcript

The only female director of the French New Wave, Agnes Varda, takes a playful and bittersweet look back at her life in "The Beaches of Agnes" (opening at the Landmark's Ken Cinema on October 30). You can listen to our discussion of the film on the KPBS Film Club.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And let’s move on to “The Beaches of Agnes.” We have a few minutes before our break, and let’s start our conversation about this movie. It’s an autobiographical film by Agnes Varda. She is one of the original French New Wave directors and the only female one. Varda, now in her eighties, celebrates her life as a director and artist, remembers the famous people she’s known and reveals the enduring pain of the loss of her husband, director Jacques Demy. Beth, Agnes Varda is sometimes called the grande dame of the French New Wave. Give us a sense of her life and her work.

BETH ACCOMANDO: Sure, I mean, she was the only female among those New Wave filmmakers and, I mean, I’ve always liked her sensibility and the fact there’s – even though some of her films have been very serious as well, like “Vagabond,” I’ve always found that she’s got this playful way of approaching cinema and of how she mixes elements and mixes reality with, you know, some stylish flourishes. And recently she’s been doing more documentary work. She did “The Gleaners and I” was her most recent documentary, I think, before this. And in this film there’s just really this very playful sense of approaching a self portrait. I mean, she opens the film with all these mirrors on the beach and, you know, playing with this notion of, you know, these mirrors being a self portrait of her and turning these mirrors around on all the people that are working on the film as well and you get this real sense of her still – and, I mean, a lot of these New Wavers are like this. I mean, she’s in her eighties and she’s still experimenting and she’s still trying to find new ways of telling stories and I think that’s just really inspiring.

"The Beaches of Agnes"

Cinema Guild

Above: "The Beaches of Agnes"

CAVANAUGH: In many ways Agnes Varda’s life is sort of a documentary of the Bohemian lifestyle of the second half of the 20th century. Tell us the kinds of people that she’s known and places that she’s been.

ACCOMANDO: She’s traveled a lot. I mean, she was married to Jacques Demy, who was another one of the French New Wave filmmakers and, I mean, in part, you know, this film, I think, is her way of reconnecting with him. He passed away – How long ago did he die?

CAVANAUGH: 1990.

ACCOMANDO: In 1990. So, you know, I think they had a, you know, a very strong relationship both creatively and emotionally and so, in a sense, this is her way of kind of remembering him and reconnecting with him. And this film is really a lot about revisiting a lot of these people from her life and many of them who have passed on. So, you know, I think that’s part of what this film is about.

CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, are you a fan of Agnes Varda’s work?

SCOTT MARKS: You know, I’ll be honest with you, after watching this film, I was shocked by how many Agnes Varda films I haven’t seen and how many of them look terrible. This “101 Nights,” have you ever seen that?

ACCOMANDO: I haven’t seen that one. I haven’t seen all of her films.

MARKS: Man, does that look bad. That looks – And what caught me is Robert De Niro’s in a film and I haven’t seen it? This thing looks so pretentious and so silly and I was talking to Duncan Shepherd when it was over and he said her career is really uneven. Maybe just the great ones like “Vagabond” and “Cleo From 5 to 7”…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …maybe those are the ones that come to the United States. I also get a little frightened when I hear a director is making a film about themself because it’s like have you run out of artistic statement and now let’s just become self-reflexive because it’s easy. But this is a very charming, very well made film. That stuff on – with the mirrors on the beach, the framed mirrors, that is so beautifully filmed.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MARKS: I mean, I really want to see the opening 10 minutes of this film again. And it’s a very charming film. She has made a documentary about Jacques Demy, “Jocquot de Nantes.” I think that came out in the, what, late ‘90s or something like that.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MARKS: She has made a documentary about him. This is just a very lovely tour of her life and she’s very open. She’s adorable to look at. You know, I mean, you see her walking barefoot on the beach and she talks…

ACCOMANDO: She looks like an imp.

MARKS: Yeah, I mean, she has that kind of quality and in some shots her hair is pink, in some shots it’s brown. I mean, she’s still – she’s still experimenting and for – it’s so refreshing to see—I don’t want to use the word older but for lack of a better term—an older filmmaker still experimenting…

ACCOMANDO: Yes. Oh, yeah.

MARKS: …still finding new forms of expression, new ways to say things. I mean, I really – I applaud that.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a short break. When we return, we’ll hear a clip from the film “Beaches of Agnes” and continue the Film Club of the Air here on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and my guests are Beth Accomando and Scott Marks. We were just talking about the new movie from the French New Wave filmmaker Agnes Varda. It’s called “Beaches of Agnes.” And we have a clip from that film. Here’s a scene where Anges Varda is talking about her life in filmmaking.

(audio of clip from “The Beaches of Agnes”)

CAVANAUGH: That, a clip from Agnes Varda’s new movie called “Beaches of Agnes.” It’s a film autobiography. And as we were talking earlier, I get the sense that you were both somewhat charmed by this film.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: But, Beth, I want you to follow up on a reaction Scott talked about and that is sort of like a film autobiography, does it seem at all pretentious? Does it seem as if she’s run out of ideas as a director by doing a work on her own life?

ACCOMANDO: No, not in her case. I mean, the thing about this is it’s – it doesn’t feel like she’s, you know, complimenting herself or something, like look at all the great films I made or building her ego. I mean, it’s this very – She’s got a very easy, relaxed style. It’s about examining the things in her life, not trying to make herself seem important or how she may have influenced filmmaking or anything like that. And it’s very much this remembrance and also combined with this almost an exploration of the creative process as well, you know, going through her life, going through the people she’s met, going through the things that have influenced her. There’s clips from her movies and people that she’s known. And you start to see how real life influenced her films and films influenced her real life and how they – so, to me, it was very fascinating to watch and I didn’t feel like I was watching this pretentious, very full of themselves autobiography.

CAVANAUGH: “The Beaches of Agnes” opens this Friday at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas.

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