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The Beaches of Agnes (Les Plages d'Agnes) - Movie Review

Brilliant Filmmaker Focuses on Herself

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The Beaches of Agnes (Les Plages d'Agnes) - Movie Review

Agnes Varda with Camera

Cine Tamaris
In The Beaches of Agnes (Les Plages d’Agnes), the legendary French filmmaker (who directed the narrative “Cleo From Nine to Five and documentary The Gleaners, among other classics) revisits her childhood, presents footage of her young womanhood and tells of the start of her career as a photographer and cinematographer, of her eventual marriage to French New Wave director Jacques Demy and motherhood, and brings us up to the present. Mme Varda is 80 years old as this film releases theatrically in the U.S. in July, 2009, and she's still going strong. Very strong.

Reflecting Life As A Beach

In grand Varda style, the film begins at the seaside, with a dozen or so mirrors of various sizes and shapes reflecting surf and sand, as they capture fragmented images of the environment Varda has adored since her childhood.

Uses the mirrors to introduce her crew and assistants, and to focus the camera on herself, reflected from various angles as she positions and repositions each glass so that it delivers an image that is at once thought provoking and surreally beautiful. With her own poetic and impressionistic voice over narration, Varda speaks about what the sea means to her and the role that ‘plages’ have played throughout her life.

The Mature and Consummate Artist

Varda is now 80 and, although she refers to herself as ‘une petite vieille' (‘a little old lady‘), she is still a cinema titan. Her creative energy and will are huge. She is the consummate artist, constantly inventing new forms of expression, new ways of handling montage.

A Monumental Career

During her long and prolific career, Varda shared her creative life with Jacques Demy , who was also her husband, and with other cinematic greats such as French New Wave artists Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Alain Resnais, as well as Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Robert De Niro and Harrison Ford, and a wide range of other notables, including the Black Panthers and Viva, the Andy Warhol icon. All appear in the archival footage and movie clips that Varda incorporates in to this poetic, moving and inspiring documentary.

Varda's Unique Perspective And Voice

Agnes Varda: catlike

Cine Tamaris
From start to finish, “The Beaches of Agnes” shows a tremendous sense of style and panache, and is unmistakably a woman’s film that reflects a woman’s point of view about life, love and creativity. In the film, Varda’s feminism and activism come to the fore, as she recalls her coverage of the revolutions in China and Cuba, and the cultural milieu in New York during the 1960s and 70s.

Stylistically, Varda is still invoking signature ways of pushing forth a film’s narrative arc through symbolic imaging, such as walking in reverse to indicate that she’s going back in time and sailing a small boat from the rural simplicity of Sete to the cultural hub of Paris as an allegory of her career’s evolution and artistic maturation.

Varda, the consummate artist, constantly invents new forms of expression, new methods of montage. If you love cinema, you must see this film.

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Film Details:

  • The Beaches of Agnès (Les Plages d'Agnes)
  • Director: Agnes Varda
  • Release Date: July 1, 2009, USA Theatrical
  • Running Time: 110 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Country: France, with archival footage from New York, Cuba, China
  • Language: French, with English subtitles
  • Production Company: Cine Tamaris
  • Distributor: Cinema Guild
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