Wednesday, July 8, 2009

THE BEACHES OF AGNES (2009)


Written & Directed by Agnes Varda



Where & When: Laemmle Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, CA July 7, 2009, 1:20PM



"The Beaches of Agnes (Les plages d'Agn├Ęs)" is an unusual documentary because it is actually an autobiography of the filmmaker, Agnes Varda but it is certainly not your conventional autobiographical documentary, if that even actually exists. The only one I can think of is Jonathan Caouette's part narrative, part documentary, "Tarnation" from 2003. Now, Ms Varda will definitely not be familiar to the average American film goer and she may not even be recognized by the average film buff. Now I consider myself the "average film buff" but I have to admit I didn't know much about her and I have never seen one of her films but I found the idea of this film fascinating.

First, a brief history of Ms Varda; She is a French filmmaker and was part of the New Wave cinema in the 1960's. Varda was married to another prominent filmmaker of the era, Jacques Demy, the man responsible for the delightful and inspirational musical, "The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg" (1964) as well as many others. The couple were married until his death in 1990. They had two children who are now also involved in the film industry. Ms Varda has made many films but some that might be more familiar to Americans are "Cleo From 5 to 7" (1962), "Vagabond" (1985) and "The Gleaners & I" (2000). The film gets its title from her love of the beach and her life long connection to it.

Varda tells us about her life in many different ways: There are pictures of her life as a child and how her love of photography led to her career in film. She revisits her childhood home and all of the many places that played a special part in her life. She reveals the process of making her films and displays home movies of her life with Mr. Demy and their children. She tells about the time the family came to Los Angeles and tried to make sense of the Hollywood film industry. She is a strong and vocal supporter of women's rights. And throughout all of this, Varda is interviewed occasionally by an animated cat.

I greatly admire Ms Varda's zest for life and her limitless energy. The beginning of the film shows her and her crew setting up the opening shot with mirrors on the beach. She is still very hands on, making decisions on everything and even helped with bringing the props on to the set. From watching her, you never would have guessed she was 80 years old, well, actually 79 at the time. We get to see her surprise 80th birthday party at the end of the film. Agnes Varda has lived a remarkable life and you will not be disappointed in discovering all that she is about in "The Beaches of Agnes".