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Aug 8, 2017

Agnes Varda

by Patrick Hazard

The Documentaries of Agnes Varda

A recent re-viewing of the short films of Agnes Varda prompted a few observations and the desire to  try and contact the elusive filmmaker with the help of the director of ‘Flaneurs’ to whom she had given support while he began his own Vardaesque meditation on solitariness and the city of Paris. After initial contact and the desire to screen a retrospective of her documentary work – silence. Nevertheless, the brilliance, acuteness and poetry of Varda was once more apparent in her short films particularly and how much she could teach young filmmakers about editing. Read More

Agnes Varda is an intellectual filmmaker. The opposite of this would be filmmakers such as Hawks and Scorsese who have professed, not necessarily an anti-intellectual stance, but either an ignorance of the theories or an unwillingness to involve themselves in the philosophical debates surrounding film. Agnes Varda is quite the opposite. Every frame, every scene, every sequence is aware of itself as such. The lens is always self-conscious and the scene is always self-reflective. Varda’s films are always talking to themselves. Her films show a deep awareness of the signifying power of every element of the images of which they are made.

So many films can be read as self-referential text, a mirror that reflects its signs back onto itself. The cinema of Varda can be read as that which is always reading itself through the text(s) of other art-forms. What interests Varda is how different film is from photography (and in so doing it becomes an exploration of photography); how different film is from art (and therefore becomes an exploration of art); how different it is from myth. The question that haunts Varda’s work is: ‘What is on the outside of the work?’. The fact that the presence of Varda herself is never far away from the piece is telling in this regard. She is always there, but on the outside looking in. The characters in the films that could be said to be representing her are generally outsiders. Outsiders to a community, and/or outsiders to themselves. Outsiders within the text, staring beyond the frame, outstaring the camera looking in.

Varda’s cinematic style involves the use of the ‘inserted object’, not dissimilar to the Russian montagists, in which what appear to be unconnected shots of objects are given significance within a sequence. A shot of a washing-line, of a melon, a fork. Rather than using this style as a didactic approach this is Varda’s way of entering the discourse of film through the language of a dream. A surrealist method of exploring meaning through the multiplicity of meanings invested in the object. What Varda has called ‘subjective documentary’.

Varda’s work is preoccupied with one major issue: what can be expressed in film, and what is its essential nature?

But, Varda poses a lot of questions in her work. That there are no simple answers to any of them is also intrinsic to Varda’s work. So, the end result is a meditation on the limits of filmic language, or what could be better described as the mythographic.

 

 

Posted in: Director's Blog

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