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TitleThe Cinema of Agnès Varda: Resistance and Eclecticism
PublisherWallflower Press
ISBN 139780231169752
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size3.0 MB
Total Pages169
Table of Contents
                            Table of Contents
Acknowledgements
Introduction: Beginnings
1. Agnes Varda: A Woman Within History
2. Aesthetics and Technique
3. Varda’s Ethics of Filming
4. Poetics of Space
5. Cinecriture and Originality
Conclusion
Filmography
Bibliography
Index
                        
Document Text Contents
Page 1

DIRECTORS’

CUTS

the cinem
a of a

g
n

è
s

v
a

r
d

a

Agnès Varda, a pioneer of the French New Wave, has been
making radical films for more than half a century. This
volume considers her production as a whole, revisiting
overlooked films such as Mur, Murs/Documenteur (1980–81)
and connecting the filmmaker’s cinema to her recent
installation work, as well as in-depth analysis of her major
works including La Pointe Court (1954), Cléo de 5 à 7
(1961) and Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000). This study
demonstrates how Varda has resisted norms of representation
and production diktats and shows how she has elaborated
a personal repertoire of images, characters and settings that
all provide insight on their cultural and political contexts.
This book therefore offers new readings of the director’s
multifaceted rêveries, arguing her work should be understood
as an aesthetically influential and ethically-driven production
in which cinema is both a political and collaborative practice
and a synesthetic art form.

‘Fills a crucial gap in the scholarship on Agnès Varda by
tackling her more neglected films and various installations.
Written in a clear, flowing prose, this volume illuminates
Varda in a refreshing, new light.’
florence martin Goucher College

d
elp

h
in

e bén
ézet

the cinema of a g n è s va r d a
resistance and eclecticism

delphine bénézet

DIRECTORS’

CUTS
directors’ cuts focus on the work of the most significant
contemporary international filmmakers, illuminating the creative
dynamics of World Cinema.

delphine bénézet teaches comparative literature in the
School of Languages, Linguistics and Film at Queen Mary,
University of London.

f i l m s t u d i e s
cover design

[email protected] L L F L OW E R P R E S S

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the cinema of AGNÈS VARDA

DIRECTORS’ CUTS

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75 resistance and eclecticism

ordinary’ and its innumerable ‘obscure heroes of the ephemeral’ (1984: 256). The pres-
ence of these participants cannot be justified vis à vis the plot line or the main subject.
These interventions illustrate Varda’s attention to marginal and atypical encounters. In
interviews, she often explains that her approach to filmmaking is intuitive, while her
editing is much more controlled: ‘When I film, I try to be very instinctive. Following
my intuition […] Following connections, my association of ideas and images […]
But when I do the editing, I am strict and aim for structure’ (Chrostowska 2007). A
particular episode captures this characteristic of Varda’s practice and also shows her
acceptance of chance as a potentially generative force when filming. At one point in
the film, Varda is interviewing a participant when an accident between a motorbike
and a car suddenly occurs. Instead of discarding the footage where the motorbike
appears, Varda lets the camera roll and includes the unexpected experience of the crash
into the film.

Finally Varda’s choice of participants also speaks volumes about her ethics of
filming. Even with a focus on Los Angeles’s murals, Varda could have opted for more
renowned participants. Some of the muralists interviewed have gained recognition
today, but at the time of filming, most of them were relatively unknown. Varda did
not care about the fame of the artists featured in Mur, Murs. She wanted the viewers to
meet Angelenos in the flesh, whatever their occupation or origin. This genuine atten-
tion to the lives of others is the reason why Varda can rightly be considered a ‘cinéaste
passeur’, that is to say an artist who truly wants to make the audience share her encoun-
ters. Her ambition is to capture the spontaneity of these encounters, which will, once
collected and edited, constitute her films:

En regardant les gens se mettre en scène eux même, en les écoutant parler comme
ils parlent, en observant les murs, les sols, les campagnes, les paysages, les routes,
etc., on découvre tant de variétés entre le ‘à peine vrai’ et ‘le surréel’, qu’il y a de
quoi filmer dans le plaisir. En fait on pourrait presque dire que le réel fait son
cinéma! (By looking at people acting naturally, by listening to them when they
speak, by observing the walls, the ground, the countryside, the landscapes, the
roads etc., you discover the incredible variety there is between what is ‘almost
true’ and ‘completely surreal’. And all this generates real pleasure when you film
something!) (De Navacelle et al. 1988: 46; author’s translation)

(C) Mur, Murs: A Portrayal Focused on the Encounter of and the Exchange with the Other

While Mur, Murs has been interpreted with reason as a political documentary (see Flit-
terman-Lewis 1996: 230–1), the fact that it reflects overlooked experiences and tells
unconventional stories about Angelenos shows that this film is more than a mere snap-
shot of California’s muralist movement in the 1980s. In fact, I would argue that Varda’s
encounters form the core of the film, and that her focus on these encounters echoes the
practice of filmmakers who engage fully with the film’s participants, like the pioneers
of cinéma direct in Québec, Claude Jutra and Pierre Perrault. Vincent Bouchard’s study

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of the poetics of relation in the work of Jutra and Perrault is particularly à propos when
one examines Varda’s films: ‘Le tournage est l’expérience d’une rencontre avant d’être
un événement cinématographique’ (‘Shooting a film is above all the experience of an
encounter. And that even before it is a cinematographic event’) (2005: 86). In Mur,
Murs, the testimonies of Angelenos prevail over a deceptively objective presentation of
the city. The dynamic of the film is determined by the encounter and the relationship
between the filmmaker (or her alter ego on screen, Juliet Berto) and the participants.
The participants seem to lead the director from one neighbourhood to another and
from one idea to another. By association and jumps, the spectator is led through the
city, discovering new spaces and listening to the voices of locals. Mur, Murs can there-
fore be seen as a collection of valuable images that testify to the collective experience
between Varda and the participants.

The experience of meeting and filming Angelenos is simultaneously presented as
precious and fragile. This experience is shown in its variability: things may happen that
the director has neither planned, nor hoped for, as well as in its fugacity: people may
die, or not be present when she assumed they would. This is the case with the muralist
John Wehrle who she wanted to film, but could not in the end meet. In the off-screen
commentary, Varda explains that because she was unable to film Wehrle, she decided
instead to use the recording of their conversation over the phone. By including traces
of her research, Varda reinforces the spectator’s attention to the tentative quality of the
film. There is no certainty whatsoever when a project is still a work in progress. The
film relies on financial means as much as on circumstances which vary according to the
director’s exchanges with others. Often in Varda’s films, what matters the most is the
recording of the fugacious moments which testify to her connection with others. As
Froger writes: ‘Le film est le moment et la trace d’un don et d’un abandon où l’image,
en tant que donnée, importe moins qu’en tant que chiffre d’un acte qui atteste du lien
à l’autre’ (‘The film is both a special moment and the trace of a gift and abandonment,
during which the image, as an indexical document, matters less than as the trace of
a connection with another person’) (2004; author’s translation). Varda’s attempts to
establish a special relationship with her participants is visible in her documentary films
such as Mur, Murs, Daguerréotypes, Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse as well as in some of her
installations like Les Veuves de Noirmoutier. When filming these encounters, Varda
favours cooperation and spontaneity and makes the choice of revealing hiccups and
surprises.

In Mur, Murs, Varda is a ‘cinéaste passeur’ insofar as she records the unique char-
acter of these encounters. The old woman who out of the blue starts singing when she
is asked what it was like to grow up in the local neighbourhood is a brilliant example
of the unexpected yet cooperative dynamics typical of Varda’s work. These moments
of exchange make the connection between the filmmaker and the filmed participants
tangible. This woman’s response certainly took the director aback when it happened.
However, its inclusion in the final cut illustrates Varda’s acceptance of unplanned
events and spontaneous reactions. This type of moment makes the supposedly strict
boundaries between documentary and fiction vacillate. Some of the questions specta-
tors are faced with are: is Varda really telling these people’s stories, or does she fiction-

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159 resistance and eclecticism

Agnès de ci de là Varda 3, 7, 58, 60, 62, 64,
68, 71, 141

authorship 4, 6, 42, 60, 62, 64, 68, 141
autobiography 20, 37

Bachelard, Gaston 89–90, 108
Barbaud, Pierre 48–49, 134–5, 141
bereavement 32, 34, 143
bonimenteur 11, 37, 82, 115, 126,
body, bodies 5–7, 10, 12–13, 16, 19, 23–6,

28–31, 33, 38, 45–7, 50, 55, 65, 67,
77, 84–5, 90–1, 93–4, 99–101, 104,
107, 123, 126–32, 134–5, 140, 142

chance 9, 31, 55, 59–60, 66, 73, 75, 86,
91, 94, 106, 114, 119, 122, 130, 139

cinéaste passeur 5, 7, 71, 75–6, 79, 82, 86,
140

cinécriture 2, 4, 7, 111, 119, 122–3, 127,
132, 134–5, 142

cinétract 128–30, 143
Cléo de 5 à 7 3–4, 7, 9, 78, 90, 108, 112,

140
corporeal 3, 6, 10–11, 13, 16, 19, 22, 24,

29–32, 120, 123, 127, 134, 142–4

Daguerréotypes 6, 22–31, 58, 62–3, 65, 76,
140, 142

De Beauvoir, Simone 1, 19, 28, 70, 112,
129–30, 137

Dépôt de la cabane de pêcheur 7, 102, 106,
140

Deux Ans Après 7–8, 58, 60, 112, 120–2,
140

documentary 1, 5, 7, 10–11, 19–21, 24,
29–32, 38, 42, 46, 67–8, 73–6, 79,
84–7, 90, 94–5, 100, 106–7, 113, 115,
118, 122–3, 127, 136, 141, 143

Du Côté de la Côte 7, 94–5, 98–100, 102,
104–5, 107–9, 140–2, 143

eclecticism 4–5, 7, 71, 98, 140
emotion, emotional 21–2, 32, 43, 46–7,

49, 54–7, 68, 82–4, 89–91, 94, 102,
104, 107, 111, 116, 122, 125, 127,
131–4, 140, 143

encounter(s) 6–7, 25, 31, 33, 60, 64, 66,
71–9, 91, 96, 104, 106, 116, 118–19,
139–41

ethics, ethical 3–4, 7, 32, 53, 71, 75, 78,
812, 86, 71, 140

experimentation, experimental 2, 4, 6–7,
10–11, 13, 23, 29, 51–3, 56, 58, 69,
94, 103–4, 111, 113, 125, 130–2,
135–6, 139, 142

femininity 4, 17, 21, 70
feminism 4–5, 10, 128–9, 142–3
fiction 5, 20, 43, 58–9, 74, 76, 82, 84–7,

90–1, 93–4, 99, 102, 107, 113, 125, 141

I N D E X

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Jacquot de Nantes 31, 34, 58, 109

La Cabane de l’Échec 7, 102, 104, 140
La Pointe Courte 3, 6, 9–10, 37, 42–4,

46–58, 60–1, 71, 111, 116, 141–2
L’Île et Elle 31, 34, 58, 103–4
Les Créatures 48, 69, 103, 142
Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse 3, 7–10, 32, 60,

69, 76, 78, 84–6, 94, 112, 116, 118,
120–3, 139–40

Les Plages d’Agnès 31, 37, 39, 58–9, 61–3,
94, 102, 106, 143–4

Les Veuves de Noirmoutier 6, 10, 31–6, 39,
76, 81, 142

Lions Love (…and Lies) 123
L’Opéra Mouffe 3, 6, 9–13, 15–16, 18–22,

24, 36–7, 82, 90, 97, 107–8, 115, 120,
125, 140, 142

loss 33–6, 57
L’une chante, l’autre pas 10, 91, 137, 143

margins, marginal 36–7, 75, 81–2, 84–6,
123, 140–1

mourning 32, 63, 104
Mur, Murs 7–8, 10, 72–82, 84, 86, 108
music 2, 7, 11, 14, 20, 22–3, 27, 33, 37,

48, 50–1, 60, 65, 73–4, 77, 82, 95,
97, 99, 108, 116–18, 121, 126–7, 135,
137, 141–3

new wave 3–4, 8, 10, 37, 41, 43, 68–9, 82,
130

Paris, Parisian 1–2, 7, 10–11, 13, 19–23,
25, 31, 34, 36–8, 42–3, 46–8, 51,
55–9, 65–6, 82, 89–90, 94, 102, 105,
108–9, 112, 114, 116, 118, 122, 125,
136, 140–1

photographs, photography 1–3, 5, 9, 26–7,
29, 34, 45–6, 49, 52–3, 58, 60–1,
64–8, 74, 78, 80, 104–5, 111, 114,
123–7, 136, 142, 144

Ping Pong Tong et Camping 7, 102, 104–6,
140

Plaisir d’Amour en Iran 3, 7, 92
politics, political 1–6, 8, 10, 16, 18, 20, 23,

26–8, 31, 36, 51, 59, 63, 66–8, 73–5,
81–2, 112, 114–15, 117–19, 122, 131,
139, 142–3

poetics 76, 86, 94, 102–3, 140–1
portrait, portrayal 2–4, 13, 23, 25, 28–35,

46, 57, 59, 64–6, 68, 72–5, 82, 84–5,
90, 93–4, 96, 108, 116, 118

praxis 65, 81–2, 111–12, 140
pregnant, pregnancy 11–16, 18–20, 22, 82,

90, 125, 130, 140

Resnais, Alain 2–3, 9, 42–3, 48, 51–7, 61,
94, 128, 139, 141

rêverie 4, 7, 11, 15, 17, 93, 98, 132, 134

Salut les Cubains! 1–3, 5, 8, 52, 74, 78, 142
Sans Toit ni Loi 3–4, 7, 9, 58, 82, 84–6,

123, 136, 139
sensation 57, 91–2, 100, 102, 111, 126,

131–2, 134–5, 143
senses, sensory 5–8, 12, 14, 37–8, 50,

52, 56–7, 94, 100–2, 104, 106, 127,
134–5, 142

7p., cuis., s. de b., … à saisir 7, 9, 58, 70,
123, 131–5, 139–142

sound, soundscape, soundtrack 2, 7, 11–15,
17, 20, 22, 25–6, 29–30, 33, 36–8, 43,
46–51, 55, 58, 73, 77, 82, 95, 104–5,
111, 121, 125, 127, 130, 134–5, 139,
141

space 5, 7, 10, 14, 19, 24, 31–3, 35, 54,
64–6, 71, 76, 79, 82, 85–6, 89–95,
97–9, 101–7, 109, 120, 123–4, 126–9,
131–6, 140–2

surreal, surrealism, surrealist 10, 12, 16,
19, 70, 75, 93–4, 102, 113, 121, 127,
135, 142

Vallaux, Christophe 58, 63, 102

widow(s), widowhood 31–5, 38–9
women 1–6, 13, 16–28, 30–7, 45–6, 50,

53, 57–8, 61, 63, 66, 74, 92, 94, 97–9,
113, 128–31, 142–3

Ydessa, les ours et etc. 7–8, 58, 123–7, 131,
142

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