Varda films her own travels for a year or so, as she visits old friends and new, goes to lots and lots of art exhibits and museums, and attends retrospectives of her work. “Now that I’m old, everyone tends to give me awards and trophies.”
I didn’t get tired of the framing story: a tree at her offices is severely pruned, all shot in still photographs. And speaking of photographs, the main excitement in episode one is that she visits Chris Marker at his studio. She shoots the cables behind his computers, “the secret threads of the labyrinth of his art.” A Demy-fest celebrating the 50th anniversary of Lola, featuring Aimee, Piccoli and Varda’s children. Lots of exciting artwork.
Manuel de Oliveira attends Varda’s screening in Lisbon. Somebody explains Oliveira’s cinema: “He says reality is merely the result of certain conventions. It’s very important in Manoel’s films to understand that society becomes the artifice. Cinema is not the artifice. Manoel’s films help us get some distance from this reality imposed on us, so we can interpret it in another way.” Then Oliveira clowns around for Varda, doing his Chaplin impression and miming a fencing match, and my understanding of him changes. When he was a piece of trivia, The Oldest Working Filmmaker, it always seemed like he had very little time left, that each film might be his last (a review I found of Non, over two decades and thirty films ago, suggested that it would be his last), but seeing him in action I suddenly realize that he may live forever.
Varda chills in Marker’s world:
Ep. Two, she goes to Brazil and meets Glauber Rocha’s daughter and Jeanne Moreau for the Rio film festival. A chair in a gallery prompts a montage of chairs Varda has photographed. Stockholm, and an Ingmar Bergman auction. Agnes is so fascinated by her interviewer, they end up swapping jobs. She calls gallery director Hans Ulrich a “contemporary art detector.” Varda meets Jonas Mekas and Yoko Ono while dressed as a potato. Flashbacks to Vagabond and Beaches. An elephant upon its trunk announces an exibition.
Agnes Potato with Mekas:
Ep. Three: igloos in Basel. Varda’s installation film Patatutopia is a triptych of potato images. Another installation of interviews, each one playing on its own television in front of its own easy chair. “A piece by George Segal attracts my attention. I didn’t know how to film my distress when Jacques died. So I wrapped myself in white, like plaster, and imitated Alice. I listened to music we both loved. Artists invent ways for us to express our emotions.” At the Alliance Francaise she attends a presentation of Beaches and a photo exhibit, including portraits she took of filmmakers (Demy, Visconti, a superb shot of Fellini). She visits the Hermitage and flashes back to Russian Ark, then back in Paris has a fascinating chat with artists Annette Messager and Christian Boltanski.
the Segal piece:
Boltanski’s holocaust-metaphor used-clothing installation:
Ep. Four: setting up a Beaches installation, with sand and her shack made of filmstrips. Some visitors to the shack: “Their interpreter murmurs ‘New Wave'”. Digital beaches, a man who collects buttons (and button stories), then a return to La Pointe Courte, where she films the 2010 version of the same jousting tournament she shot in 1954 for her first feature. A Marker grinning cat leads to more museums, including an exhibit by a painter who works only in black. I liked how he displays his paintings, suspended in the middle of a room instead of upon the walls, so you can look past one to compare it with another in 3D. Jean-Louis Trintignant recites poetry in the park – this kind of thing never happens where I live.
Varda street on la pointe courte:
Ep. Five: a visit to her buddy Zalman King, Richard Pryor’s costar. Towers built by a “hero of outsider art.” Interview with a reluctant participant at the gang violence memorial. She talks about Jim Morrison and visits her old beach house, presumably during the Lions Love era, then toys with blue screens on the beach. Some 15th century angel/Jesus paintings then, more fun, skeletons in Mexico City. Agnes gets her interpreter to play piano and her assistant to pose nude for a photograph. Interview, with clips of Japon, with Carlos Reygadas, before visiting Frida Kahlo’s house. A juice factory that also houses a massive collection of modern art. Matthew Barney, Marina, Abramovic, and the best molé in town.
Agnes and Mexico interpreter Elodie, not nude:
And the series ends with no grand sweeping statement on the travels, just a series of sketches accumulated over a year or two, the time it took for the tree in her courtyard to completely re-grow.