Film Review: Varda By Agnès

Legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda’s last film Varda By Agnès is just what admirers would expect from her. The film is a most fitting tribute to her career. 

Filmmaker, photographer, and visual artist Agnès Varda looks back at her striking career. Ever the storyteller, Varda combines clips, unseen footage, and archive material to provide a fascinating insight into her world…

Varda By Agnès is a documentary that functions on multiple levels. On the surface, it is a look back on the career of Varda. On a secondary level, the film really shifts focus to what Varda considers most important. Furthermore, it is also almost an instructional manual for budding filmmakers. 

The focus on Agnès Varda’s early career is fascinating. Varda By Agnès depicts not only her motivations, but how she worked in a practical sense. It is wonderful to see not only clips from her best-known films, but also behind the scenes imagery that is accompanied by extrapolation on her method. 

The documentary jumps around chronologically, focusing on her output in the 1960s, before going back to her career as a photographer and forward to her work as a visual artist. This timeline works well to show her influences and ideas at various points, and how they developed. There is a sense of repetition and recycling, which Varda overtly touches upon. 

As much as the film is a story about the career of a filmmaker and artist, Varda examines the idea of the self-portrait. She explicitly points out her interest in others and specifically real people, a theme that can be seen throughout her career. Varda By Agnès underscores her eye for capturing the interesting in the everyday. The film really emphasises the artist’s personality, her preoccupation of finding interest in the normal (including her casting decisions), and her commitment to realism. 

Filmmakers can learn a lot from Varda’s ideas and methods. Her later visual art illustrates the development of her career in moving image. The film is accessible; viewers do not need to have seen her previous films to enjoy this one. 

It is most apt that Varda made the definitive documentary on her career. Varda By Agnès is a great tribute to a classic filmmaker. 

Varda By Agnès will be released at BFI Southbank and cinemas UK-wide on 19th July 2019.

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