Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beaches of Agnes (Rhoades)

“Beaches of Agnes” Beachheads at Tropic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Filmmaker Agnès Varda opens her autobiographical film by saying, “I’m playing the role of a little old lady, pleasantly plumb and talkative, telling her life story.” Yet, she professes, it is other people that she’s really interested in, others who intrigue her.

She says looking at others is like looking at landscapes. But when she looks within herself, she sees beaches. Thus, the title of this documentary, “The Beaches of Agnès” (“Les plages d’Agnès”). It’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Agnès toddles around a sandy beach, setting up mirrors and frames facing the sea. The mirrors symbolize a camera reflecting what they see. She walks backward to signal going back in time. She invites circus acrobats onto this beach that represents her life. She sails a boat from Sete to Paris as an allegory of the journey of her career.

She wants this portrait to show her as if reflected in an old mirror, showing that familiar bowl-shaped haircut, her scarf blowing in the wind. She says the mirrors remind her of her parents’ bedroom in Brussels where she grew up.

If you’re a cinephile, you probably know Agnès Varda from her films. “Cleo from 5 to 7,” “Le Bonheur,” and “Vagabond” are among her classics.

She was married to a famous French director (Jacques Demy), covered the Chinese and Cuban revolutions, and supported feminism when it wasn’t fashionable to do so. Her first film, 1954’s “La Pointe Courte,” is considered a stylistic precursor to the French New Wave films.

This is not her first foray into biographical films. She created an excellent documentary about her late husband, “The Universe of Jacques Demy.” And her documentary “The Gleaners and I” offered a tantalizing glimpse into her then-life.

She says of her early days as a filmmaker, “I had seen very few films, which, in a way, gave me both the naivety and the daring to do what I did.” So it’s not surprising that her films have a distinct experimental style about them.

“The Beaches of Agnès” typifies that experimentation. A most unusual – and fascinating – approach to a self-portrait.
[from Solares Hill]

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