Agnès Varda Jonathan Hoops - Essay

Jonathan Hoops

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Lions Love must be counted among] film weirdities. Agnes Varda abandons the sureties of the conventional film (like Le Bonheur) for what tries to be new, liberated, and honest and nearly succeeds. Story-telling is out: each scene connects to what has gone before as its significance unfolds in the viewer's mind—no plot guides us. The point is to enjoy what is at hand, as in Cleo from 5 to 7. No other choice except nonenjoyment or suicide exists for the three main characters, Viva, Jerome Ragni, and James Rado, who live in a rented house (metaphysical note: as the soul is said to do in the body) in Hollywood and wait for stardom (read "immortality," i.e., death). It should be clear that Varda intends something serious, a philosophy underlying all her films. Unfortunately, she flops. The film mixes contrivance (heavy directional hand) and spontaneity (underground "instant movies") with a result sometimes charming, but more often phony or confusing. For example, a terrible falseness pervades the argument with a Hollywood mogul over rights to the final cut of a film in the making by Shirley Clarke [who plays the lead character] who has happened into the life of our three lions…. Lions Love has a strong inclination toward the New York underground film, and the viewer's reaction will be determined largely by either an assumption that the underground deviates from or that it advances toward some desirable cinematic goal. Let's take choice two and give Varda credit despite faux pas. An Establishment film maker who recognizes the underground makes history, if not art. This aesthetic failure is a product of the director's confused intentions. The tension between spontaneity (never in full bloom until the last shot) and contrivance never satisfactorily resolves. With great courage and insufficient forethought Agnes Varda throws herself into strange waters where she struggles to appear composed while grasping desperately at the flotsam and jetsam of the wreck of the traditional film she has abandoned. (pp. 60-1)

Jonathan Hoops, "Short Notices: 'Lions Love'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1970 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXIII, No. 4, Summer, 1970, pp. 60-1.