TIFF 2019 Review: Varda by Agnès

by Andrew Parker

An autobiographical epitaph and one of the best cinema studies lessons viewers are ever likely to receive, Varda by Agnès finds one of the best filmmakers who ever lived leaving behind an in-depth reflection on their legacy. This final introspective work produced by renowned French filmmaker Agnès Varda – who passed away earlier this year at the age of 91 – is a guided tour of her filmography, told with all the passion, good will, and joy that made her one of the warmest and most empathetic artists to ever live.

Varda by Agnès unfolds across a series of talks and lectures that Varda has given – both recently and in the past, on screen and in university or festival settings – about the nature of her work. Varda by Agnès isn’t a chronological documentary, but one that makes connections between themes and feelings found in many of her films. The result is a fluid examination of her career. Varda dishes on her experimental works, dramas, documentaries, and even her more recent dabbling in installation art equally, and leaves no stone unturned.

It’s always a pleasure to watch Agnès Varda talk about her experiences and the world around her, but her final film is one of the best crash courses one will ever get in the art of cinema. When talking about on-screen style as “cinewriting,” Varda is able to tell everything a budding filmmaker needs to know about how to make a great movie in a matter of seconds and without a hint of pretension. She’s tackled a wide range of topics throughout her career – cancer, abortion, civil rights, racism, privilege, poverty, feminism, loss of self, politics, infidelity – and Varda by Agnès will teach anyone willing to listen how to deal with sometimes touchy issues with grace, intelligence, and bravery.

There are some great anecdotes throughout Varda by Agnès – like filming the Black Panthers with Jacques Demy, how she weathered the big budget bomb One Hundred and One Nights, or her previous fascinations with potatoes and plastics – but the real appeal of Varda’s final work is just how much viewers will stand to learn from it. It’s a cinematic hug from the other side, and we’re lucky to have it. Even in death, there are few teachers better than Agnès Varda.

Friday, September 6, 2019 – 11:30 am – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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