Agnès Varda in the Believer

On Film / Short Takes — Oct 23, 2009

Sheila Heti of the Believer had a chance to talk to Agnès Varda during the Toronto International Film Festival—or rather, a chance to be one of a group of reporters whom Varda, at the festival with her film The Beaches of Agnes, addressed in her Toronto hotel room. Varda was a bit skittish about the event, directing attendees’ attention to her press kit and suggesting that they needn’t hold the gathering at all: “You could even invent that you met me!” Heti decided to take that cue, in part. “This interview is invented; many of the questions are made up,” she writes. “She was not interested in speaking to each reporter individually, and since her latest films, in particular, are more interested in the feeling of truth than the truth, there is no reason for me to argue with her method. The result, published in this month’s issue of the magazine, is a fittingly unorthodox conversation with the proto–New Wave artist, in which she touches on how filmmaking is different from carpentry, her hairstyle, the difficulty of getting in touch with Harrison Ford, turning Chris Marker into a cartoon cat, and the speedlike properties of rosemary—plus humanity’s need for the idea of family, her relationship with Jacques Demy, and how and why she became a director.

Trained as a photographer, Varda made her first film, La Pointe Courte (included in Criterion’s 4 by Agnès Varda set, which, Heti writes, “shows her mastery, her sensitivity, her imagination and range”) at a time when, she says, “cinema was just following the path of theater. Theater! I mean, psychology and drama and dialogue and making sense!” Having seen only a few movies in her life, she made a cinematic debut that was both instinctual and assured. As she says in the interview, “I made a film. Then when I finished, I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s so beautiful—I should be a filmmaker!’”