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September 7, 2009 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Agnès Varda: Paris (1958-2003)

A collection of eight short films written and directed by Agnès Varda


Agnes Varda became prominent in the French New Wave of the early 1960s. Although she is often left out of the New Wave canon, her distinct personality and style has allowed her to pave her own way through the film industry continually creating inspiring and captivating films.

This collection of short films is centred on the city of Paris, particularly around Varda’s home territory in the streets and boulevards of the Left Bank. This view of Paris is far from the glitzy Hollywood eye that usually projects the city.

Three films in particular give a detailed perspective of Paris. The So-called Caryatids looks into the history of the forgotten sculpted female figures that decorate the columns of many older Parisian buildings. In The Volatile Lion a narrative is created around the bronze Lion de Belfort that stands proudly in the central city. Seven Rooms, Kitchen and Bath retells a variety of stories contained within the walls of an empty apartment, and You’ve Got Beautiful Stairs, You Know… a tribute is made to the Parisian iconic theatre Cinémathèque Française.

A reoccurring theme of Varda’s is the search for a female perspective within her filmmaking. This can be seen in Opera-Mouffe, where the rough streets of rue Mouffetard are presented through a pregnant woman’s eyes. Images of fruit and doves link to ideas of birth and purity, which is then contrasted with those who dwell in the rough side of town. However, Varda’s social conscience prevails when she makes the point that these rouges were also once babies who had “their bottoms patted and talked.”

Elsa the Rose is a poetic and charming anecdote of a wife through the eyes of the surrealist writer Louis Aragon. The use of old photographs combined with present-day footage is reminiscent of Varda’s celebration of her own husband’s life in Jacquot de Nante. Varda’s humour and personality is presented in a slapstick silent film, The Mac Donald Bridge Fiances, starring Jean Luc Godard without his trademark glasses on.

At some points the narrative gets lost in among the metaphors that cannot be translated from French to English. But it is through these images that the vibrancy of Varda’s personality that makes her so enjoyable shines through. This collection is well worth a look for anyone wanting to be inspired by original filmmaking by a far underrated director.


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