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At nearly 80, Agnès Varda explores her memory - growing up in Belgium, living in Sète, Paris, and Noirmoutier, discovering photography, making a film, being part of the New Wave, raising children with Jacques Demy, losing him, and growing old. She explores her memory using photographs, film clips, home movies, contemporary interviews, and set pieces she designs to capture a feeling, a time, or a frame. Shining through each scene are her impish charm, inventiveness, and natural empathy. How do people grow old, how does loss stay with them, can they remain creative, and what do they remember? Memory, she says, is like a swarm of confused flies. She envisions hers for us. Written by
Autobiographies can be the worst or the best of things. Either a boring exercise in conceit and self-absorption or a fascinating self-exploration by a person of value.
Well, the Agnes of 'Les plages d'Agnès' being Agnès Varda there is no need to worry. She undoubtedly belongs to the second category.
It goes without saying that to fully appreciate this wonderful film you have to be a minimum acquainted with Varda's oeuvre. But a minimum is enough, for it does not take long before the lady starts captivating you, not by boasting about all the masterpieces she made, but by creating a new kind of story-telling right before your eyes.
One thing I am pretty sure of is that there is no other film, autobiographical or not, that looks like "Les plages d'Agnès".
Of course there is no question that Varda's life is rich and worth telling: she worked for and with great artists, she was married to one of the most original French directors ever (Jacques Demy), she covered the fledgling Chinese and Cuban revolutions, fought in favor of feminism when it was not yet fashionable to do so. The real issue for the director was in fact to find HOW to talk about herself. Well after viewing "Les Plages d'Agnès", I can tell her (and I am far from being the only one to think so): "You did it brilliantly, Agnès".
Indeed Agnès Varda is not content to go through the motions of the standard autobiographical movie: talking face to the camera or in voice over, interviewing witnesses of her life and illustrating her words with significant clips. She does that of course but she knows how to enrich the material through a lot original finds: the mirrors on the beaches,her walking backwards to show she goes back in time, the circus artists on the beach, recreating her Cine Tamaris production office on a fake beach in Rue Daguerre, her sailing a boat from Sete to Paris as an allegory of the evolution of her career, etc. etc. Agnès Varda never rests on her laurels throughout. Quite the contrary: she creates, invents, tries out new things sequence after sequence. In the film she calls herself 'une petite vieille' (a short old lady) but I suspect she says so out of vanity because she does not look old at all. Actually, she has retained all the freshness, all the spontaneity of the young lady she once was.
Don't refrain from seeing this film even if it does not appeal to you in the first place. When the end credits roll you will probably - just like I did - utter with a sigh: "Is it already the end?"
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