Bears, Leopards, and Lions

Varda by Agnès (2019)

Back in February, the Berlin International Film Festival presented its Berlinale Camera, a “tribute to personalities and institutions that have made a unique contribution to film and to whom the festival feels especially close,” to Agnès Varda. The roots of the Berlinale’s relationship with Varda were deep, reaching back to 1965, when the festival hosted the international premiere of her third feature, Le bonheur, and flourishing as Kung-fu master! (1988) and One Hundred and One Nights (1995) screened in competition. This year, the Berlinale presented the world premiere of Varda by Agnès, a lively blend of recollections and advice to future filmmakers, a grand summation of the work of a tireless filmmaker, photographer, and installation artist. It would be her last film. Just weeks later, Agnès Varda passed away.

The fifty-seventh New York Film Festival, opening today, is dedicated to her memory, and on October 9 and 10, her daughter, Rosalie Varda, will be on hand for the New York premiere of Varda by Agnès. From December 20 through January 9, Film at Lincoln Center will roll out a retrospective, “the most comprehensive survey to date of the late filmmaker’s vast canon,” presented in partnership with Janus Films, which will be taking the retrospective around the country.

In Varda by Agnès, Jaclyn Bruneau, writing for Cinema Scope, finds the filmmaker unlocking secrets “not in the transactional, bureaucratic manner that late life (near death) often invites, but merrily, with the uncanny ebullience of a child inside the body of (and with all the wisdom of) a ninety-year-old woman whose creative work has been the conduit for all the richness a life might bring.” At Slant, Pat Brown notes that Varda “allows herself to go off on tangents, and, ironically, her ancillary thoughts feel a bit less navel-gazing than the film’s main thrust. For one, the story about directing Robert De Niro for one day for her final fiction film, One Hundred and One Nights, should seem an extraneous bit of boasting, but Varda’s bashfully excited tone makes it seem generous; she’s letting us in on the somewhat guilty pleasure she took in landing a major Hollywood star. And whenever she talks about her beloved husband, director Jacques Demy, who died of AIDS in 1990, the film also approaches a kind of ‘sharing’ not borrowed from her previous work.”

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