Agnès Varda from Thursday to Sunday | Bleader

Agnès Varda from Thursday to Sunday

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Cleo From 5 to 7 screens at the Logan Theatre tonight.
  • Cleo From 5 to 7 screens at the Logan Theatre tonight.
As it turns out, two films by the great Agnès Varda are playing around town in the next four days. At 11 PM tonight, the Logan Theatre screens her second feature, Cleo From 5 to 7 (1961); and on Sunday at 7 PM, Doc Films will present her 2000 documentary The Gleaners and I as the conclusion of their Varda/Chris Marker series. Along with Vagabond (1985), these films are her best known, and either would make for a fine introduction to her work. I can only hope that someone organizes another Varda retrospective that delves into the rich and strange depths of her career, namely her uncommonly gentle depictions of adultery and pedophilia (Le Bonheur and Kung Fu Master! respectively) and her many documentary shorts. The latter may be her most personal films—Varda entered into cinema by way of photojournalism (she claims to have had little knowledge of movies before she started making her own), and these movies exemplify the focus and spirit of discovery that distinguish her work on the whole.

The director has described her work as a cinécriture—"film writing"—whereby she imparts a personal style on every level of a film's production, from location scouting to postproduction sound design. The connection to writing is most apparent in Varda's editing, which establishes a sense of continuity between different images much like stream-of-consciousness literature creates a sense of continuity between different ideas. (It's worth noting that Alain Resnais, the filmmaker most often associated with this school of literature, edited Varda's first feature, La Pointe Courte.) As I recently wrote of her Jacquot (1991), the uniform perspective makes each film feel like a single thought; one doesn't think of her films in terms of development so much as liberated movement.

Varda at the Harvard Film Archive in 2009
  • Puchku/Wikimedia Commons
  • Varda at the Harvard Film Archive in 2009
There's something bracingly contemporary about Varda's filmmaking. Recent advances in technology are enabling independent filmmakers to control more aspects of a film's production by themselves; diminishing financial resources for independent filmmakers all but require them to. Varda demonstrates how to make the most of this approach by maximizing the significance of each shot. She never takes an image for granted, but expands on it through narration, a contrapuntal music choice, camera movement, or some internal reference to a previous shot. This isn't just resourceful filmmaking, but a reflection of Varda's personal commitment to the art. As Varda approaches filmmaking as akin to freewriting, so she grants her images the associative richness of memories. This may help to explain why Varda hasn't been lionized to the same extent as some other French New Wave directors, even though Pointe Courte anticipated the general style of the New Wave by five years. However youthful, her movies feel like they've always been around—and hence all too easy to take for granted.

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