Cannes 2017: Agnès Varda and JR’s Faces Places

“She is an 88-year-old film directing icon with a two-tone purple rinse,” begins David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “He is a 33-year-old photographer and conceptual artist who likes to wear a silly little trilby hat. Together, they amble around the French countryside and visit small towns and allow their imagination to run amuck. Then they explain the motivations of their striking public installations to local people to see how they react. That is, in a salted nutshell, the extremely charming and original new film from Agnès Varda, who is joined by the perma-shaded and like-minded scamp, JR, on her whimsical journey to who-knows-where.”

Faces Places (Visages Villages) “is a movie about itself: the subjects are so warm and wonderful it’s a wise move.” Jordan Hoffman for the Guardian: “The pair travel and take pictures, and paste gigantic portraits on the sides of old houses and city walls. The people—ex-miners, waitresses, factory workers, spouses of dockworkers—reflect upon seeing themselves, but also just speak their mind about other topics. It can be funny, it can be melancholy. All that Varda and JR seem to care about is that it is honest.”

“The first stop is France’s little-visited North, coal-mining country littered with abandoned, dilapidated homes, and where just one last inhabitant still holds out,” notes the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. “The visit is haunting and sets the tone for the unplanned nature of the trip, which will bear out Varda’s view that, ‘Chance has always been my best asset.’”

“Perhaps it’s misguided to view Faces Places through the prism of the recent French presidential election, in which the far-right, anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen lost after a historically strong showing,” writes Ben Kenigsberg at “But the movie plays as a powerful rejection of Le Pen’s platform, and a defense of art’s ability to inspire camaraderie and to bring people closer together. The film’s biggest coup comes toward the end and is probably best kept vague. Varda plans to introduce JR to one of her former French New Wave colleagues, an auteur who has a habit of not keeping his appointments. Will he show up for the rendezvous? So far, no other question at Cannes’ 70th edition has generated such suspense.”

“Outsiders and women have always been at the heart of Varda’s cinema,” writes Isabel Stevens for Sight & Sound, “and that holds here: when she and JR visit the grave of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, Varda dedicates equal attention to fellow shutterbug Martine Francke, whose tombstone stands next to her husband’s. Later it is Varda’s idea to usher the wives of the Le Havre dockworkers into the all-male space of the port, emblazoning their giant figures on the sides of shipping containers. ‘Why do you say you stand behind your husband?’ she queries one of the wives when they are discussing recent strikes at the dock. ‘Don’t you mean beside?’”

“Invested with a real sense of joy, Faces Places is also something of a lament for a fast disappearing France,” notes Screen’s Allan Hunter.

At the Playlist, Bradley Warren finds that “the maturity—and fragility—of the veteran director creeps in from the fringes of the frame, and the possibility that audience might lose her at any time contributes an undercurrent of sadness to the whole affair.”

“What could have very easily been a vanity piece in the hands of another director becomes a beautifully moving celebration of the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people, particularly as a love letter to the beauty of aging,” writes David Acacia for the International Cinephile Society. “As much as the film delivers a full sense of who Agnès Varda and JR are as people, what their rapport is like, they really show true humility in making a film where every ordinary person is a star, and their loving portraits give a voice and legacy to the faces we overlook.”

“And every time they lay their (camera's) eye on something,” adds Bénédicte Prot at Cineuropa, “a new web of relations appears and grows, much like their playful friendship itself, as they both look in the same direction, far away into the horizon beyond the water, and we see them united in the wind and the sand.”

Variety’s Leo Barraclough talks with the duo about crowdfunding and other shared adventures.

Updates, 5/23: For Amy Taubin, dispatching to Film Comment, in Varda’s “magnificent, groundbreaking, nearly 60-year career, this is one of her most profoundly personal and exuberantly populist works.”

Blake Williams for Filmmaker: “Among the charms and anecdotes, Varda’s ruminations on the nature and pleasures of photography—the way the ephemerality of a print mimics that of our bodies; the uncanny sensations of seeing one’s own image, still and performed; how our portrait has the opportunity to ‘see’ things and places in the world that we never will—are especially moving, and always less simple and quaint than they may sound off the tongue.”

“If the magnificently moving, funny, life-affirming, and altogether wonderful Faces Places . . . is to be the 88-year-old Belgian auteur’s last film, it will be because of her failing eyesight or the inexplicable difficulty she’s had with funding her work, and not because she’s run out of things to say or novel ways to say them,” writes David Ehrlich at IndieWire.

More from Mónica Delgado (desistfilm) and Shelagh Rowan-Legg (ScreenAnarchy).

Update, 5/24:Faces Places is one of the films discussed in the latest Film Comment Podcast (59’45”).

Update, 5/26: “Agnès Varda, in the glory of her golden years, has become a humanist magician,” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. “There is no mention of politics, yet Visages Villages may be the most profound political movie to play at Cannes this year. Its ‘message’ is simplicity itself: Everyone is who they are. . . . Our addiction to wealth and celebrity has begun to suck the air out of the appreciation for ordinary life, and this film offers a sublime rebuke to that.”

Update, 5/31: “The film is the perfect antidote to Michel Hazanavicius’s Redoubtable,” writes Daniella Shreir for Another Gaze. “Supposedly based on Anne Wiazemsky’s first-person account of her relationship with Godard, it is instead a love letter from one male auteur to another, excusing Godard’s abusive tendencies towards Wiazemsky through reference to his genius, portraying her mute and naked in every other scene. Visages, Villages posits the auteur as not as a creator but as a bringer-together. Instead of the easy self-perpetuated mythology of the heroic individual, it celebrates the creativity that is generated by empathy, by moments of people coming together.”

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