Shamefully, I have not done my share of French New Wave homework and haven’t spent a great deal of time with legendary director Agnès Varda, though her illustrious career is not unknown to me. On the more positive side, her latest, Faces Places, introduced me to a filmmaker, whose love of discovering new things and people has only seemingly heightened in the last stage of her career.
Familiar with the work of Varda or not, Faces Places is a lovely movie, which covers a great deal of ground in just 89 minutes. Varda co-directs with French artist and muralist JR, who is knowing for pasting large photographs on buildings, water towers or anywhere that has enough room to accommodate his work. The world is a blank canvas for JR and Varda is thrilled to be along for the ride with him and work with him.
“Faces Places is inspiring and reflective and works just as well as a mismatched buddy road comedy.”
So, Varda and JR hit the road in a van disguised as a giant camera, which prints out photographs from its side – it’s fascinating how this vehicle operates. They travel throughout France and simply meet new people from all walks of life, taking their photograph and creating art out of their new friendships. Varda doesn’t try and hide that’s the essential thesis of the movie; she just wants to meet new people.
Faces Places may sound simple but moments of the movie are so profound as Varda ruminates on her life and career, much to the fascination of JR. He is mostly excited to hear about her friendship with fellow French New Wave filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, who Varda hasn’t had much contact with in several years. An attempted visit to his homes offers one of the more affecting moments of the movie.
At 86, Varda has such a thirst for life and art, one could only hope to have a fraction of her spirit at that age. She is not shy when discussing her life coming to an end because she knows she has accomplished a lot in her lifetime but wants to continue discovering new people and places while she still can. Faces Places is inspiring and reflective and works just as well as a mismatched buddy road comedy. It’s pure cinematic joy.