Agnès Varda Critical Essays

Introduction

Agnès Varda 1928–

French director and screenwriter.

Although her work is sometimes compared to that of her husband, filmmaker Jacques Demy, Varda is more often grouped with Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. These filmmakers are considered, along with others, the "Left Bank group," directors pursuing various experimental styles and emphasizing technique in film. Varda worked with Resnais in editing her first film, La Pointe courte. Resnais was hesitant to greatly alter the work Varda had done, for he saw in the film cinematic ideas which he himself intended to realize. Many critics have indeed called Varda a forerunner of the nouvelle vague (new wave) movement in film.

Varda worked on La Pointe courte with almost no prior experience and little formal knowledge of filmmaking. In some ways, however, she had already acquired an intuitive conception of contemporary film theory, and had definite ideas of what she wanted to accomplish with the medium. "I had the feeling … that the cinema was not free, above all in its form, and that annoyed me," Varda states.

She was a still photographer for the Theatre Nationale Populaire, and this experience is stylistically reflected in her films. She independently produced her first work, and was then commissioned to film three short travelogues for the French Tourist Office. The project had inherent limitations, but O saisons, O châteaux and Du côté de la côte nonetheless display the original artistic personality of their maker.

A distinguishing trait of Varda's cinematic method is her attempt to distance the viewer from characters in the film. Part of her objective with such films as Cléo de 5 à 7 and Le Bonheur is to avoid establishing a relationship between the characters and the audience, so that the situation of the characters might be judged more than sympathized with. The focus on stylistic aspects in Varda's films, in addition, eclipses character and narrative content. Varda moves more toward narrative meaning and message in her recent work Une chant et l'autre pas. A study in feminism, the film has been termed simplistic but technically artful propaganda.

It is for her technical skill and innovation that Varda is most often praised by critics. The graceful artificiality of Varda's cinematic world adds a distinct style to contemporary film, as well as enlarging the possibilities of the art form.