Agnès Varda Judith Thurman - Essay

Judith Thurman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

So much life is looked at in ["One Sings, the Other Doesn't"] that it has a certain old-fashioned and well-furnished vastness, like that of a family saga. It is, however, an extended family of women friends and children. Men are not excluded and they are not unimportant, but they are peripheral to the action. And this is neither inaccurate nor unfair. How many of our fathers have actively been there? (p. 26)

There is a spareness and lightness to Varda's decisions about her images which keep the melodrama contained to particular moments, balanced by dailiness and irony. She narrates the story herself in a quiet, editorial voice, and this makes it possible to read the film with a certain distance, to perceive Varda's captions, to see it as a work of imaginative criticism rather than pure fiction.

"One Sings, the Other Doesn't" is also a very clear and valuable account of a certain period. The two personal stories are in turn braided around a third strand—women's history between 1962 and 1977. Both women demonstrate for abortion at Bobigny. Apple [or Pomme] brings her feminist café-theater to the squares of provincial villages. Suzanne and the women factory and farm workers at her clinic have a political and sexual consciousness-raising group, and Varda, who shot the scenes in a real clinic, with "real" women, uses them to pose questions critical to her own narrative.

I felt at times that certain problems and impasses, personal and historical, had been simplified in the film and others passed over. But the strength and passion of the work lie in its refusal to wrap up these lives, to make a conclusive, celluloid package of their contradictions. Varda has had the confidence as an artist and the honesty as a woman to leave them unresolved. (pp. 26, 28)

Judith Thurman, "'One Sings, the Other Doesn't': Leaving the Loose Ends Intact," in Ms. (© 1978 Ms. Magazine Corp.), Vol. VI, No. 7, January, 1978, pp. 26, 28.