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March 8 - March 16

Ciné-Varda

One of the most influential and inventive artists of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda (b. 1928) has created a remarkable body of films that playfully and insightfully dance between, and beyond, the traditional categories of fiction and nonfiction, poem and prose, cinema and photography. A ceaselessly prolific artist whose most recent film, Les plages d’Agnès, was completed in 2008, Varda’s films are inimitably varied yet deeply complementary, united around the idea of the film essay which Varda pioneered, together with her close friends and occasional collaborators Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. The high points of Varda’s long career are equally marked by narrative features such as Cleo From 5 to 7 as by ruminative film essays such as The Gleaners and I and those works like Vagabond that ambiguously blend fiction and documentary.

Varda studied art history and photography before turning to film at the age of twenty-five. Incredibly, she had no experience behind the camera when she began directing her first film, La pointe courte, and admits to having only seen about twenty movies prior to making her own. She married the filmmaker Jacques Demy in 1962, a partnership that lasted until his death in 1990 and resulted in two films about his life, Jacquot de Nantes and The World of Jacques Demy.

Varda coined the term cinécriture, or “cine-writing,” to describe her unique method of filmmaking, whereby every aspect of the film is carefully planned in order to extract the greatest possible resonance from the juxtaposition of image and sound and the overall rhythm of the film defined by its editing structure. The result is a combination of the highly subjective and the sociological, providing Varda with the opportunity to simultaneously indulge in the documentary impulses that have fascinated her throughout her career – shooting on the streets, using non-professional actors to play roles similar to themselves – while crafting intricate and moving stories involving fictional characters whose stories are reflected in and enhanced by the documentary details picked up by Varda’s ever inquisitive eye.

The Harvard Film Archive is proud to welcome Agnès Varda for four nights, including a very special screening of her new film, Les plages d’Agnès.

Special thanks: Brigitte Bouvier, Eric Jausseran, French Consulate of Boston; Dominique Bluher, Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard; George Lanzillo, Royal Sonesta Hotel Boston.

Read the Boston Globe's review of the series.

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Sunday March 8 at 7pm

La pointe courte

Directed by Agnès Varda.
With Silvia Monfort, Philippe Noiret
France 1954, 35mm, b/w, 89 min. French with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Varda’s first feature set the example for the New Wave by filming on location (in the port city of Sète) with a small crew and outside the French studio system. Other than the two leads actors (including a young Philippe Noiret), borrowed from the Théâtre National Populaire, La pointe courte stars local fishermen and their families playing versions of themselves, at that time a radical practice, and one which Varda would continue in future films. Loosely based on William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms, La pointe courte follows two storylines connected through their location: while a young couple whose marriage is on the brink of dissolution visit the husband’s childhood home, the local fishermen manage their day-to-day family lives, running afoul of government inspectors and celebrating their annual boating event. Relying on her remarkable eye—honed by her years as a still photographer—Varda crafts visuals whose arresting beauty and texture draw as much from Sète and the working life of the village as from the disappointed lovers.

Ulysse

Directed by Agnès Varda.
France 1982, 35mm, color, 22 min. French with English subtitles
Print from Cine Tamaris

With Ulysse, Varda returns to a striking photograph she took in 1954, its subject a naked man on the beach beside a young boy, also naked, and the corpse of a goat. When the subjects, tracked down thirty years later, fail to remember the circumstances surrounding the photo, the film becomes a haunting meditation on the elusive nature of memory as well as a fascinating introduction to Varda’s photography and its influence on her filmmaking.

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Sunday March 8 at 9:15pm

Daguerréotypes

Directed by Agnès Varda.
France 1975, 16mm, color, 80 min. French with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Varda has lived and worked on the rue Daguerre in Paris since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1974, while at home with her two-year old son, that she turned her camera on her neighbors and began this rich documentary about the street and its inhabitants. As in La pointe courte, physical location is inextricably linked to the community discovered in the film, with the rue Daguerre weaving its neighbors together into a type of extended family. Centered around a magician’s street performance, Daguerréotypes follows its mix of shopkeepers and artists as they move through their small street, the world in microcosm.

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Monday March 9 at 7pm

One Sings, the Other Doesn't (L'une chante, l'autre pas)

Directed by Agnès Varda.
With Thérèse Liotard, Valérie Mairesse, Ali Raffi
France 1976, 35mm, color, 120 min. French with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Varda’s most overtly feminist film, One Sings, the Other Doesn’t follows the lives of two very different women over the course of two decades: Pomme, a middle-class rebel whose singing career coincides with her radicalization and Suzanne, a young working-class mother whose financial hardships bring about her activism. Out of their friendship, Varda crafts a buoyant portrait of French feminism in the 1970s, capturing the optimism and energy of the moment. While the utopian period captured by the film has surely passed, the delicacy of Varda’s approach renders the film a timeless and poignant reminder of an age past.

Documenteur

Directed by Agnès Varda. With Sabine Mamou, Mathieu Demy
France 1980-1981, 16mm, color, 63 min.
Print from Cine Tamaris

Made during Varda’s brief stay in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, the title is a pun on the French words for documentary (documentaire) and liar (menteur), a juxtaposition that has preoccupied Varda’s filmmaking since the beginning of her career. Tracing the alienation of a recent divorceé newly arrived in L.A. with her young son, Documenteur uses its extensive interior monologue to underscore the woman’s status as an outsider, vividly using Los Angeles to evoke the her sense of loss and loneliness. Varda blurs the line between fiction and documentary by incorporating elements from her L.A. documentary Mur murs and by casting her own son, Mathieu, a practice she would repeat, most notably in Kung Fu Master.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Friday March 13 at 7pm

The Beaches of Agnes (Les plages d'Agnès)

Directed by Agnès Varda, Appearing in Person
France 2008, 35mm, color, 110 min. French with English subtitles
Print from Cine Tamaris

“If you opened people up, you would find landscapes,” Varda says in the opening voiceover of her new film. “If you opened me up, you would find beaches.” Varda’s latest work is an autobiographical essay that takes a nostalgic yet penetrating look back at her life and films. Using photographs, recreations and scenes from her films, Varda illustrates the various stages of her life, from her marriage to Jacques Demy and his death in 1990 to her childhood memories of Sète, the fishing village that would become the subject of her first film. Woven through these reminiscences are lonely, dreamlike sequences shot on the beaches that have influenced and inspired her.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Saturday March 14 at 7pm

Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7)

Directed by Agnès Varda, Appearing in Person
With Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray
France 1961, 35mm, b/w and color, 90 min. French with English subtitles
Print from Janus Films

Varda’s international breakthrough film, Cléo shows, in real time, an hour and a half in the life of a singer traveling across Paris while waiting for the results of a biopsy. Vain, childish and selfish at the start, Cléo’s journey through Paris becomes a journey of self-discovery –she transforms in the course of the film from a passive woman, on whom others project their expectations, into an active participant in her own life. Cléo’s movements through the city embody this metamorphosis—while the film’s first half is dominated by a shopping excursion through glittering, mirrored surfaces that reflect and refract her, in the second half, Cléo literally sheds her false image in order to actively observe the city, culminating in her spontaneous friendship with a soldier on leave.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Saturday March 14 at 9:30pm

Lions Love

Directed by Agnès Varda, Appearing in Person
With Viva, Jim Rado, Jerry Ragni
France 1968, 35mm, color, 110 min.
Print from Cine Tamaris

Andy Warhol discovery Viva, filmmaker Shirley Clarke and Jerome Ragni and James Rado, the creators of Hair, play themselves in Varda’s vision of Hollywood and the sexual revolution. Structured as a playful film within a film, Varda repeatedly punctures the cinematic illusion by discussing scenes with the actors from behind the camera and at one point appearing briefly, to show Clarke how to act out a suicide attempt. Combined with footage of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and the shooting of Andy Warhol, Lions Love is a time capsule of free love and its consequences. Look for cameo appearances by Peter Bogdanovich and Jim Morrison, among others.

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Sunday March 15 at 3pm

Jacquot de Nantes

Directed by Agnès Varda.
With Jacques Demy, Philippe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud, Laurent Monnier
France 1990, 35mm, b/w & color, 118 min. French with English subtitles
Print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

Begun while Varda’s husband, Jacques Demy, was ill and completed after his death, Jacquot de Nantes is Varda’s valentine to her husband, a tour through his life and work that is at once joyous and elegiac. Using a combination of recreations based on Demy’s memories, on-screen reminiscences and clips from Demy’s films, Varda traces Demy’s evolution from a movie-loving boy in the coastal town of Nantes through his career as an accomplished director of films like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Lola. Interspersed throughout the film are intimate close-ups of Demy’s fragile body, tenderly filmed by Varda in one of her most personal and affecting films.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Sunday March 15 at 7pm

The Gleaners and I (Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse)

Directed by Agnès Varda, Appearing in Person
France 2000, 35mm, color, 82 min. French with English subtitles
Print from Zeitgeist Films

Once again Varda uses the documentary format as a jumping off point for an expressionistic diary in which her own life intercedes. Digital video camera in hand, she searches for modern day gleaners—those who live off what others consider waste—both in rural France and in the alleys and dumpsters of Paris. The film expands the definition of a gleaner to include Varda herself, someone who gleans images and stories from the world around her. True to form, The Gleaners and I functions as a kind of diary, a poetic exploration of poverty, waste, consumption and circulation.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Sunday March 15 at 9:25pm

Happiness (Le bonheur)

Directed by Agnès Varda, Appearing in Person
With Jean-Claude Drouot, Claire Drouot, Marie-France Boyer
France 1964, 35mm, color, 82 min. French with English subtitles
Print from Cine Tamaris

Unlike the bulk of Varda’s work, Happiness, with its highly stylized form and refusal to explore the psychology of its characters, is completely removed from reality, rejecting any of Varda’s usual documentary or self-reflexive elements. It is also Varda’s most controversial work, revolving around a blissfully happy family man (Jean-Claude Drouot, appearing with his real-life wife and children) who decides, with uncomplicated ease, to expand upon his happiness by taking a mistress. Set in an idyllic landscape of leisurely country picnics and shot in cheerfully vibrant colors, there is nonetheless a distinct chill detectable underneath the film’s relentlessly sunny exterior. Although Varda resists any simple moralizing, she has said of Happiness, “I imagined a summer peach with its perfect colors, and inside, there is a worm.”

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Special Event Tickets $10
Monday March 16 at 7pm

Vagabond

Directed by Agnès Varda, Appearing in Person
With Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau
France 1985, 35mm, color, 105 min. French with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Anchored by Sandrine Bonnaire’s remarkable performance as a woman whose refusal to be known or understood pushes her into total detachment from society, Vagabond was Varda’s biggest success since Cléo and, like the earlier film, uses the trajectory of its itinerant female protagonist as a structuring device. Shot in a semi-documentary style, the film opens abruptly on the body of Mona, frozen to death in a ditch on the side of the road. Interspersed with flashbacks of Mona’s life as a drifter are reminiscences by the people she met along the way. In spite of Varda’s attention, Mona ultimately remains unknowable, even to herself. She is a cipher, misunderstood by those she has encountered even as they recall their impressions and interactions with her for the camera.

Kung Fu Master

Directed by Agnès Varda.
With Jane Birkin, Mathieu Demy, Charlotte Gainsbourg
France 1987, 35mm, color, 78 min. French with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Developed from an idea Jane Birkin shared with Varda while making Jane B. par Agnes V., Kung Fu Master stars Birkin as a forty-year old divorced woman who falls in love with her teenage daughter’s video game obsessed friend. By presenting Birkin’s desire without passing judgment, Varda evenhandedly explores a potentially explosive subject with a seriousness not usually granted to female fantasies. Although told as a straightforward narrative, the onscreen relationships are complicated by their offscreen associations: Birkin’s object of affection is played by Varda’s son, Mathieu, and Birkin’s daughters, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon, play her daughters in the film.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700