A gifted and outspoken feminist and one of the most acclaimed directors anywhere in the world, Agnès Varda could be considered the prototype of today’s independent filmmaker. Varda is a survivor, a stubborn and patient observer of her time and her people, like the pop singer in CLÉO FROM 5 TO 7, the lovers in LE BONHEUR (HAPPINESS) or the drifter in VAGABOND. "I have fought so much since I started … for something that comes from emotion, from visual emotion, sound emotion, feeling, and finding a shape for that," Varda has said.
Varda directed her first feature, LA POINTE COURTE, in 1954, with no formal training in filmmaking. The movie has often been identified as the film that started the French New Wave ("and a famous flop," as Varda has wryly noted). Along with Alain Resnais and Chris Marker, she made up the so-called "Left Bank Group" of the early 1960s, distinct from other New Wave directors for their interest in both documentary and fiction and their passion for both political and social filmmaking. Her marriage to Jacques Demy (1931-1990) made her one-half of the most beloved filmmaking couple of their day, and her tribute to Demy, JACQUOT DE NANTES, is one of her finest films.
In 1962, Varda directed the legendary CLÉO FROM 5 TO 7, a French New Wave classic about two hours in the life of a pop singer. The film’s sense of profound realism crossed with lyrical visual poetry pointed the way toward much of Varda’s later work, which would alternate between acclaimed documentaries and romantic but naturalistic fiction features. Capable of crafting both gritty cinematic time capsules and expressionistic mood pieces like LES CREATURES, the breadth of Varda’s talent is nearly as astonishing as its depth. For more than 50 years, she has continued to experiment and innovate, creating one of the first digital video masterpieces (THE GLEANERS AND I) as well as timely portraits of cities from L.A. (LIONS LOVE) to Paris. She has worked in nearly every form of filmmaking that exists, from shorts to documentaries to a delightful celebration of film history (ONE HUNDRED AND ONE NIGHTS), and has mastered them all.
As if that weren’t enough, Varda also helmed one of the greatest French films of the 1980s, VAGABOND, and published a highly acclaimed autobiography. Recent years have seen no slowing down of her output and no lessening of her talent: Her latest film, THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS, won the Cesar (the French equivalent of the Academy Award) for best documentary. Varda has been quoted as saying that she wants "to illuminate women’s lives—not only their hardships, although they’re important, but also the light, the transparency, the pleasure of being a woman." While Varda has certainly accomplished this, the range of her work is more expansive than perhaps even she knows—it is not enough to label her a feminist filmmaker, or a New Wave filmmaker, or a political filmmaker. She is simply one of the greatest living directors in any country, working in any language, in any form.
The Cinematheque is proud to present a sneak preview of THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS along with a series of Varda’s masterpieces, with the director herself live and in-person.