Nationality: Belgian. Born: Brussels, 30 May 1928. Education: Studied literature and psychology at the Sorbonne, Paris; studied art history at the Ecole du Louvre; studied photography at night school. Family: Married director Jacques Demy, one son, one daughter. Career: Stage photographer for Theatre Festival of Avignon, then for Theatre National Populaire, Paris, Jean Vilar; directed first film, 1954; accompanied Chris Marker to China as advisor for Dimanche à Pekin , 1955; directed two shorts in U.S., 1968; founded production company Ciné-Tamaris, 1977. Awards: Prix Méliès for Cléo de 5 à 7 , 1961; Bronze Lion, Venice Festival, for Salut les Cubains , 1964; Prix Louis Delluc, David Selznick Award, and Silver Bear, Berlin Festival, for Le Bonheur , 1966; First Prize, Oberhausen, for Black Panthers , 1968; Grand Prix, Taormina, for L'Une chante, l'autre pas , 1977; Cesar Award, for Ulysse , 1984; Golden Lion, Venice Festival, Prix Melies, and Best Foreign Film, Los Angeles Film Critics
La Pointe courte (+ pr, sc)
O saisons, o châteaux (doc short)
L'Opéra-Mouffe (short); Du côté de la Côte (short)
Cléo de cinq à sept (+ sc)
Salut les Cubains ( Salute to Cuba ) (+ text) (doc short)
Le Bonheur (+ sc)
Uncle Yanco ; episode of Loin du Vietnam ( Far from Vietnam )
Black Panthers ( Huey ) (doc)
Lion's Love (+ pr)
Nausicaa (for TV)
Daguerrotypes (+ pr); Réponses de femmes (8mm)
L'Une chante l'autre pas ( One Sings, the Other Doesn't )
Mur Murs ( Wall Walls ; Mural Murals ) (+ pr)
Documenteur: An Emotion Picture (+ pr)
Les Dites cariatides ; Sept P., Cuis., S. de B., . . . a saisir
Vagabonde ( Sans Toit ni loi ,; Vagabond )
Kung Fu Master ( Don't Say It ); Jane B. par Agnès V. (doc) (appearance)
Jacquot de Nantes (+ pr, sc)
Des demoiselles ont en 25 ans ( The Young Girls Turn 25 ) (doc)
Les cent et une nuits ( A Hundred and One Nights ) (+ sc); L'universe de Jacques Demy ( The World of Jacques Demy ) (doc)
Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse ( Gleaners and I ) (+ sc, ed, role as herself)
Last Tango in Paris (Bertolucci) (co-dialogue)
Lady Oscar (Demy) (pr)
Varda par Agnès , Paris, 1994.
" Cleo de cinq à sept : Script Extract," in Films and Filming (London), December 1962.
"Pasolini—Varda—Allio—Sarris—Michelson," in Film Culture (New York), Fall 1966.
" Le Bonheur ," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), December 1966.
"The Underground River," an interview with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), March 1970.
"Mother of the New Wave," an interview with J. Levitin, in Women and Film (Santa Monica), vol. 1, no. 5–6, 1974.
"L'Une chante, l'autre pas," an interview with J. Narboni and others, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1977.
"One Sings, the Other Doesn't," an interview with R. McCormick, in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1977/78.
"Un cinéma plus 'partageable': Agnès Varda," an interview with A. Tournés, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), February 1982.
Interview with J. Sabine, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), October 1982.
"Un jour sous le soleil," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), December 1985.
Interview with Rob Edelman, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 15, no. 1, 1986.
Interview with Barbara Quart, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1986/1987.
Interview with F. Audé, in Positif (Paris), March 1988.
"Vers le visage de Jacques," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1990.
"Jacquot de Nantes. Évocation d'une enfance heureuse," an interview with C. Pelvaux, in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 55, Summer 1991.
"Agnès Varda: les cartes buissonières," an interview with Jean Darrigol, in Mensuel du Cinéma , May 1994.
"Agnès Varda: une jeune femme très digne," an interview with Mario Cloutier and Johanne Larue, in Séquences (Haute-Ville), March-April 1995.
"Restoration of the Umbrellas of Cherbourg ," an interview with Eric Rudolph, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1996.
Armes, Roy, French Cinema since 1946: Vol.2—The Personal Style , New York, 1966.
Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy, To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema , Urbana, Illinois, 1990.
Acker, Ally, Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present , New York, 1991.
Smith, Alison, Agnes Varda , Manchester, 1998.
Strick, Philip, "Agnès Varda," in Film (London), Spring 1963.
Pyros, J., "Notes on Women Directors," in Take One (Montreal), November/December 1970.
Roud, Richard, "The Left Bank Revisited," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1977.
Beylie, Claude, "Les Chardons ardents d'Agnès Varda," in Ecran (Paris), 15 April 1979.
Ranvaud, Don, "Travellers Tales," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1986.
Durgnat, Raymond, "Resnais & Co.: Back to the Avant-Garde," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1987.
Prédal, René, "Agnès Varda, une certaine idée de la marginalité," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), October/November 1987.
Forbes, Jill, "Agnès Varda—The Gaze of the Medusa?," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1989.
Furlan, S., " Jacques de Nantes ," in Ekran (Paris), vol. 16, no. 4/5, 1991.
Floret, M., and others, "Agnes par Varda," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), April/May 1992.
Kelleher, E., "Director Varda's Jacquot Recalls Spouse Demy," in Film Journal (New York), May 1993.
Meredyth Talton, Jana, "Agnes Varda: Ahead of the Avant-Garde," in Ms. (New York), May/June 1993.
Taboulay, Camille, "Agnès Varda la mélangeuse," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1994.
Naddaf, Roswitha, "Varda von A bis Z," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), 10 May 1994.
Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), February 1996.
Biro, Y., "Caryatids of Time: Temporality in the Cinema of Agnès Varda," in Performing Arts Journal , no. 57, 1997.
* * *
Agnès Varda's startlingly individualistic films have earned her the title "grandmother of the New Wave" of French filmmaking. Her statement that a filmmaker must exercise as much freedom as a novelist became a mandate for New Wave directors, especially Chris Marker and Alain Resnais. Varda's first film, La Pointe courte , edited by Resnais, is regarded, as Georges Sadoul affirms, as "the first film of the French nouvelle vague. Its interplay between conscience, emotions, and the real world make it a direct antecedent of Hiroshima, mon amour. "
The use of doubling, and twin story lines; the personification of objects; the artistic determination of cinematic composition, color, texture, form, and time; and the correlation of individual subjectivity to societal objectivity to depict socio-political issues are denominators of Varda's films, which she writes, produces, and directs.
After La Pointe courte Varda made three documentaries in 1957–58. The best of these was L'Opéra-Mouffe , portraying the Mouffetard district of Paris. Segments of the film are prefaced by handwritten intertitles, a literary element Varda is fond of using. In 1961–62, Varda began but did not complete two film projects: La Cocotte d'azur and Melangite. Her next film, Cléo de cinq à sept , records the time a pop singer waits for results of her exam for cancer. Varda used physical time in Cleo: events happening at the same tempo as they would in actual life. The film is divided into chapters, using Tarot cards which symbolize fate. Varda next photographed 4,000 still photos of Castro's revolution-in-progress, resulting in Salute to Cuba. Le Bonheur is considered Varda's most stunning and controversial achievement. Critics were puzzled and pleased. Of her first color film, Varda says it was "essentially a pursuit of the palette. . . . Psychology takes first place." A young carpenter lives with his wife and children. Then he takes a mistress; when his wife drowns, his mistress takes her place. The film was commended for its superb visual beauties, the use of narrative in le nouveau roman literary pattern, and its tonal contrasts and spatial configurations. Critics continue to debate the film's theme.
Elsa is an essay portraying authors Elsa Triolet and her husband Louis Aragon. Les Créatures uses a black and white with red color scheme in a fantasy-thriller utilizing an inside-outside plot that mingles real and unreal events. As in La Pointe courte , a young couple retreat to a rural locale. The pregnant wife is mute, due to an accident. Her husband is writing a book. He meets a recluse who operates a machine forcing people to behave as his or her subconscious would dictate. The wife gives birth, regaining her speech.
Visiting the United States, Varda and her husband Jacques Demy each made a film. Varda honored her Uncle Janco in the film so named. The Black Panthers (or Huey ) followed. Both documentaries were shown at the London Film Festival in 1968. She next directed a segment of the antiwar short Far from Vietnam. Using an American setting and an English-speaking cast, including the co-authors of the musical Hair , Varda made Lions Love in Hollywood. This jigsaw-puzzle work includes a fake suicide and images of a TV set reporting Robert Kennedy's assassination. G. Roy Levin declared that it was hard to distinguish between the actual and the invented film realities. Nausicaa deals with Greeks living in France. Made for television, it was not shown, Varda says, because it was against military-ruled Greece.
In 1971, Varda helped write the script for Last Tango in Paris. Varda's involvement in the women's movement began about 1972; a film dealing with feminist issues, Réponses de femmes , has yet to be shown. Made for German television, Daguerreotypes has no cast. Varda filmed the residents and shops of the Rue Daguerre, a tribute to L. J. M. Daguerre.
In 1977, Varda made One Sings, the Other Doesn't and established her own company, Ciné-Tamaris, to finance it. This "family" of workers created the film. Chronicling the friendship of two women over fifteen years, it earned mixed reviews, some referring to it as feminist propaganda or as sentimental syrup. But Varda, narrating the film and writing the song lyrics, does not impose her views. In One Sings , she wanted to portray the happiness of being a woman, she says.
Easily Varda's most potent film of the 1980s, and one of the best of her career, is Vagabond , an evocative drama about the death and life of a young woman, Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire). She is an ex-secretary who has chosen to become a drifter, and her fate is apparent at the outset. As the film begins, Mona has died. Her frost-bitten corpse is seen in a ditch. Her body is claimed by no one, and she is laid to rest in a potter's field. As Vagabond unfolds, Varda explores Mona's identity as she wanders through the rural French countryside hitching rides and begging for the necessities that will sustain her. The scenario also spotlights the manner in which she impacts on those she meets: truck drivers; a gas station owner and his son; a vineyard worker; a professor-researcher; and other, fellow drifters. Varda constructs the film as a series of sequences, some comprised of a single shot lasting several seconds, in which Mona passes through the lives of these people. The result is an eloquent film about one average, ill-fated young woman and the choices she makes, as well as a meditation on chance meetings and missed opportunities. On a much broader level, the film serves as an allegory of the travails a woman must face if she desires to completely liberate herself from the shackles of society.
Varda's most notable recent films have been valentines to her late husband, filmmaker Jacques Demy. The Young Girls Turn 25 is a nostalgia piece about the filming of Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort; The World of Jacques Demy is an up-close-and-personal documentary-biography consisting of interviews and clips from Demy's films.
A third title, Jacquot de Nantes , was the most widely seen. It is an exquisite film: a penetrating, heart-rending account of the measure of a man's life, with Varda moving between sequences of Demy in conversation, filmed in extreme close-up; clips from his films; and a re-creation of his childhood in Nantes and the manner in which he developed a passion for cinema. Varda illustrates how Demy's life and world view impacted on his films; for example, his hatred of violence, which is ever so apparent in his films, was forged by his memories of Nantes being bombed during World War II. But Jacquot de Nantes (which was conceived prior to Demy's death) is most effective as a tender love letter from one life partner to another. Varda visually evokes her feeling towards her departed mate in one of the film's opening shots. She pans her camera across a watercolor, whose composition is that of a nude woman and man who are holding hands. With over three decades of filmmaking experience, Varda's reputation as a filmmaker dazzles and endures.
—Louise Heck-Rabi, updated by Rob Edelman