Film : Agnes Varda puts life on film
One of three films showing next week
Legendary New Wave director Agnes Varda uses film to reminisce about her life in "The Beaches of Agnes," which the Martha's Vineyard Film Society will present on Tuesday, July 28, at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.
One of France's best-known and most celebrated woman directors, Ms. Varda uses her restless and ever-inventive imagination to create a tour de force of cinematic technique and imagery in the documentary.
Not unexpectedly, the film begins at the beach, with the filmmaker explaining, "If we open me, we'll find beaches," as she and her assistants prop mirrors against a backdrop of surf that sometimes washes over them.
Rather than a conventional retelling of one's life, "The Beaches of Agnes" proceeds as a meditation on memory. Ms. Varda employs cinematic technique -- insets, cartoons, double exposures -- as a way to evoke and renew the past through reinvention.
She explains that imagining oneself as a child is like running backwards, and she often appears in the film walking backward. Visits to locales from her past become visual jumping-off points.
Born in Brussels, Belgium, she films the casino where her father, a Greek immigrant, loved to play roulette. During the war, Ms. Varda lived in France on a boat with her mother and siblings, so she puts herself in a rowboat and films French schoolgirls in Vichy-style pinafores. Remembering the summer she spent at the beach with three daughters from another family, she pitches a tent like the one they stayed in. One shot of the diminutive director in the tent envisions her like an odalisque, reclining on pillows.
Many of Ms. Varda's cinematic memories include her late husband Jacques Demy, the French filmmaker best known for "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," her daughter Rosalie and their son Matthieu. Jacques Demy died of AIDs in 1990, and Ms. Varda paid tribute to him that year in "Jacquot de Nantes," a film about his childhood in that city.
"The Beaches of Agnes" ends with a surprise party for the director's 80th birthday, but Ms. Varda is far from finished. With one remarkable shot after another, she demonstrates in this film how far she is from the end of her creative life.
Also this week
A quick note on two other worthy films: Jaymie Sacks, managing director of the Boston Jewish Film Festival, will introduce "Max Minsky and Me" at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center on Sunday, July 26. Based on an award-winning German novel, the comedy tells the story of a 13-year-old Berlin girl, Nelly, who has a crush on Luxembourg's Prince Edouard. She decides her best chance at meeting him is to join her school's basketball team and enlists the help of another player, Max Minsky. Nelly's bat mitzvah takes a back seat in this warm-hearted tale about a girl's rite of passage.