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film review

Varda by Agnès offers insight into the unorthodox oeuvre of the Nouvelle Vague filmmaker and artist.Courtesy of TIFF

  • Varda by Agnès
  • Directed by Agnès Varda
  • Classification N/A
  • 115 minutes


3.5 out of 4 stars

In Varda by Agnès, the late, great French auteur Agnès Varda narrates from a director’s chair to a packed opera house her recollections about a lifetime of work, from her influential black-and-white fiction film Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) to her most recent documentary, co-directed by photographer JR, Faces Places (2017).

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Despite her failing eyes, Varda is figuratively clear-eyed, warm and unsentimental in her recall. These include rarely heard anecdotes, such as one about the 1995 commercial flop One Hundred and One Nights, in which Robert De Niro tried, and only somewhat succeeded, to speak French. Sandrine Bonnaire, who starred as the homeless teenager Mona in Varda’s feminist film Vagabond (1985), tells a surprised Varda that on set, the director was uncharacteristically indifferent to the callouses the actress developed for the role. Footage from previous films – Mur Murs, The Gleaners and I and many more – rolls on as Varda contextualizes their productions, often a hybrid of aesthetic and personal musings.

This is a fascinating, informative, and reflective swan song that gives Varda the final word, and some of the due she’s been owed her entire career, as one of the most influential feminist filmmakers.

Varda by Agnès opens Nov. 29 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto, and Dec. 6 in Montreal and Vancouver