A Little Story from Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda’s Mur Murs (1980)

Of all the home viewing tips offered over the past few weeks, perhaps none will be as delightful to those of us who miss moviegoing culture as The Little Story of Gwen from French Brittany, a brisk five-minute short film that Agnès Varda made in 2008. Sprinting lightly between the present and reconstructed flashbacks, Varda tells the tale of Gwen Deglise, who left France “with empty pockets” for Los Angeles, where, short story even shorter, she became the head of programming at the American Cinematheque. “It is just one of many examples of the California dream,” says Varda, who spent a few years in the Golden State herself in the late 1960s and early 1980s.

Deglise’s story reminds Varda of Patricia Mazuy, the French filmmaker who also ventured west as a young woman and wound up working with Varda and her team as an editor on Mur Murs (1980), and eventually, back home, on Vagabond (1985) as well. “Let’s get back to Gwen,” says Varda after the brief diversion. From a modest cinema, bookstore, and coffee shop where Jacques Demy’s Bay of Angels (1963) is being screened, we head to the two theaters run by the nonprofit American Cinematheque, the Egyptian, that grand palace that hosted Hollywood premieres back in the 1920s, and the Aero in Santa Monica.

Deadline’s Pete Hammond reports that Deglise, announcing the exclusive digital premiere of The Little Story in a letter to Cinematheque members, writes: “‘Our lives often crossed paths,’ as Agnès would again say a week before she passed away last year . . . Of her many gifts: her curiosity was limitless, her appetite for life boundless.” The Cinematheque’s YouTube channel also offers Julie Delpy’s brief but heartfelt introduction to a screening of Varda by Agnès last December and—this one is particularly fascinating—Cinematheque chief projectionist Benjamin Tucker talking about how he’s keeping the projectors, some of them dating back seventy years, up to speed while the theaters remained closed for the foreseeable future.

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