Cinema Ritrovato 2017: Agnès Varda, the gaze poetry and a pastel palette


Posted by Larry Gleeson

The Agnès Varda eyes are clear and bright: this is how she appears in the press meetings, on stage for the exceptional preview of her latest effort and elaborate shot JR, the blow that the street artist in Paris pasted on cars a train, in selfies on Instagram and early plans Visages Villages . But if the physical myopia is a motif that recurs throughout the documentary out of competition at Cannes that has heated up the evening in Piazza Maggiore, certainly is not that the worldview that the director octogenarian sent in her latest work, straddling cinema and contemporary visual culture (fashion, street art, installation art, social media).

The imaginative power of the look, however, is one of the pillars of filmmaking: the artist’s eye not only knows how to observe with keenness the reality, but it can, representing it, to color it in his own way, and to bring the viewers outside the borders and inside dimensions that gradually become poetry in the making, in the practice of gestures, find themselves in these places.

But if we look, in fact, in Visages Villages (2017), and also to its immediate antecedent, Les trois boutons (2015) – the short film inside the Miu Miu Women’s series Tale – it is clear that Agnès Varda has been able to create a veritable palette of colors through which she expresses a world system that, far from being programmatic, however, tends to an end: the recovery of humanity, the sense of belonging, the pleasure of meeting, and the reshaping of femininity within new spaces, both physical and cultural.

The two films, when viewed in close sequence, seem to come from the same palette: there are common characters (the mailman and the picture of him, in which a small female figure, Jasmine, the young protagonist of the short film, receiving parcels and letters now turns into a poster monumental poster of grandeur), recurrent landscapes (a gentle, quiet countryside), same attendance (the inevitable white goats). But in hindsight, the closest connection that unites them is precisely that set up of color, highly nuanced and opaque, made small despite its brilliance.

There is blue, declined both in turquoise, is in its most cold colors and light. The first is the color of a more benevolent sky, whether it be the small countries of the North of France – it is to enlighten the South streets to the cemetery where is buried Henri Cartier-Bresson. This is not mere aestheticism, but the search for an inner being that favors the meeting with him (in the case of Jasmine) or the other (in Visages Villages ). The second trend can be sweet or melancholy: Jasmine is always dressed in a light blue, as well as the postman wearing his sugar paper uniform in both films. It is a color that also returns in the shutters of the houses, but soon instilled in the gray posters by JR. They are the colors of the light, but also the color of the atmosphere, quell’impalpabilità that Leonardo da Vinci had designed to give the impression of spatial distance, and that we find in many of the shots Visages Villages where Varda and JR are shown over-the-shoulder, peering towards the sea or at a lake horizon. Along with the tenderness of the two are the closeness to people and to the world – there is always the cold shadow that photography brings, the harbinger of a film of the uncanny, as perceived by one of the girls that is observed in amazement at the posting of her country.

The variations of the indefinite colors are ocher, ice, sand making of houses, water towers, the beach at the cliff –  a façade, still under construction of memorable places: Varda reminiscent of Guy Bourdin, a fleeting image on bunkers collapsed and washed away by the tide. Yet, Varda and JR reproduce a desert Louvre and gilded the famous Godard race scene in Bande à part.

But, finally, there is room for more iridescent, though rarefied, by an increasingly opaque use of light: there is the pure white goat with horns (symbol, perhaps, of a simplicity to be respected, and perhaps to imitate), there are fuchsia and burgundy of the magic suit of Jasmine and the same in Agnès Varda’s clothes. And, there are greens and a bright red container at the center of springing the wives of stevedores at the port of Les Havres. This is why the femininity proposal by Varda is strong, free, independent, and stands next to the things of the world, never behind them.

—-Beatrice Seligardi