Reality/Fiction, Fiction/Reality

Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda

One of the sidebars of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s second annual documentary festival, the sprawling Art of the Real, showcases non-fiction and fiction films made throughout the long, remarkable career of the great French director Agnès Varda.

In a 2009 interview, Varda said, “I need images, I need representation which deals in other means than reality. We have to use reality but get out of it. That’s what I try to do all the time.” This approach to storytelling is reflected in her rich and innovative narrative features as well as her various kinds of nonfiction work–diary films, essay films, experimental documentaries and anthropological sketches.

“The Actualities of Agnès Varda” opens with her first film, a marital drama, “La Pointe Courte” (1955), set in the French coastal fishing village of Sète (where Varda partially grew up).  Her celebrated feature “Vagabond” (1985) stars Sandrine Bonnaire (a career-defining performance) as Mona, a young professional who abandons her comfortable urban life for a solitary existence on the road. Regardless of gender, social/economic class and ethnicity, the people with whom Mona interacts in her travels, played by mostly non-actors, are all baffled by her choices and motivation.

Ten documentaries are also part of the program. “Black Panthers” (1968), a casual portrait of the revolutionaries, focuses on a “Free Huey” rally in Oakland, CA. Varda shot 2,500 photos in Cuba in December 1962 and edited 1,500 for her exuberant photo montage, “Salut les Cubains” (1963).  With a two-year old, son Mathieu Demy, Varda was “a bit stuck at the house,” and “Daguerreotypes,” (1976) is both a group portrait of her neighbors on Rue Daguerre and a trenchant comment on how domestic/familial responsibilities circumscribe women’s creative work.  “The Gleaners and I,” (2000) Varda’s glorious and perhaps best-known documentary, focuses on what is gathered, what is left behind–in fields, on the shoreline, in dumpsters, from garbage, and with images.

“The Actualities of Agnès Varda,” part of Art of the Real, runs from Friday, April 17 through Friday, April 24, will be shown at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Francesca Beale Theater. A Q&A with Agnès Varda will follow screenings of “La Pointe Courte,” “Vagabond,” and a program of four of her short documentaries. Varda will also introduce “Daguerreotypes.”

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