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The first thing I appreciate here is that Varda went out with a camera and filmed her own neighborhood, looked for insight right outside her door. How richer would our lives be (and looking back, the cachet of images that convey the past) if more filmmakers were alert to their surroundings, looked for insight in the present?
She finds an ordinary life of course; visits middle-aged bakers, butchers, perfume sellers in their shops, observes the coming and going. There are no young people interviewed, so this emerges as the chronicle of a generation, Varda's own; the generation who were kids or teenagers during WWII and came to the big city right after from some village in the countryside. The street is Rue Dageurre, after the pioneer of early photography. It's photographs of life that we get. Our reward is that ordinary insight of photographs.
The best photographs are spontaneous, offering a sense that lingers. The sense here is bittersweetness that the journey has come to a stop there in that street, that this is a last station. They recount stories of how they fell in love with a fondness as if stirring the young lover they were. Asked about dreams they see, most dream that they're back in the shops they run during the day, a few dream about romance. The saddest of these neighbors is the old wife of the perfume seller who absently sits around the shop all day, not fully there in mind. The most poignant thing, in the evenings she's seized by some inexplicable urge to go out the door as if something calls for her, some journey left incomplete. She never ventures past the door.
This sense so placidly evoked lingered with me all day and the next; how we're caught between a life we build as loving shelter and the urge to step out the door in the evenings. The soul calls for both, both require mindful cultivation; going out in search of aimless pleasure must be only the unmindful way to do it, the artless way. Varda it seems strove to make herself a gift of that life that is mindfully present, cultivate it; a film like this is the seed that invites the care required to bloom.
The film is a small gesture of affectionate presence, closeness. Sad, and not. Its place may not be in a list of lifechanging works. But it can deepen you the same way a small gesture like stroking a loved one's hair deepens love.
(Ideally you'll see this after Varda's Le Bonheur, one of the most masterful films I know. The couple there could be among the ones here, grown to be 50 together in the same home; consider this an addendum. The same question emerges. Is this happiness? What is this mind that wonders?)
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