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January 26 – March 5

2018 Norton Lectures in Cinema: Agnès Varda

One of the most influential and inventive artists associated with 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/non-fiction, poetry/prose and cinema/photography. Wonderfully prolific, Varda premiered her latest film Faces Places at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and it has been received with critical acclaim at festivals around the world. A moving testament to Varda’s uniquely humanist cinema and her long love of portraiture, Faces Places affirms her status as one of the legendary filmmakers still active today. With Faces Places Varda returns once more to the alternately playfully and philosophical mode of the essay film which she pioneered together with her close friends and occasional collaborators Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. The high points of Varda’s long and still active career are equally marked by pioneering narrative features such as Cleo from 5 to 7 and Vagabond as by ruminative essays such as Daguerréotypes and The Gleaners and I.

Varda studied art history and still 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 seen only a small number of movies prior to launching her storied directorial career. In 1962, Varda married the filmmaker Jacques Demy, a partnership that lasted until his death in 1990 and resulted in her touching tribute, Jacquot de Nantes.

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 word and image and to define an overall rhythm and tempo defined by an often intricate editing structure. The result is a combination of the deeply personal and the sociological, providing Varda with the unique means to indulge in the documentary impulses that have guided her throughout—shooting on the streets, casting non-professional actors to play roles similar to themselves—while crafting complex and moving narratives involving fictional characters whose stories are reflected in and enhanced by the documentary details discovered by Varda’s ever inquisitive eye.

The subject of a 2009 Harvard Film Archive retrospective, Varda returns to Harvard now as a Charles Eliot Norton Professor in Poetry, invited to deliver two of the 2018 Norton Lectures, alongside Frederick Wiseman and Wim Wenders. Together with the honorary Oscar awarded Varda this past November, the Norton Professorship recognizes Varda as one of the greatest and most original filmmakers of our times. – Haden Guest

Co-presented with the Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard.

Film stills courtesy Ciné Tamaris and Cohen Media Group.

Special thanks: Homi Bhabha, Steven Biel, Sarah Razor, Mary Halpenny-Killip—Mahindra Humanities Center; the members of the Norton Lectures Committee: Haden Guest, Sylvaine Guyot, Robin Kelsey, Robb Moss, Richard Peña, Eric Rentschler, Diana Sorenson, David Wang, Nicholas Watson; and Jennifer Ivers, Assistant Dean for Faculty Development, FAS, Harvard.


Discussion with Steven Brown and Jack Leng
Friday January 26 at 7pm

The Gleaners and I
(Les glaneurs et la glaneuse)

Directed by Agnès Varda
France 2000, 35mm, color, 82 min. French with English subtitles

Once again using the documentary format as a jumping-off point for an expressionistic diary in which her own life intercedes, Varda, with a handheld digital video camera, searches for modern-day gleaners in rural France and the alleys and dumpsters of Paris. Varda expands the definition of a gleaner to include 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 gleaning, poverty, and the history of gleaning in France. Print courtesy Zeitgeist Films.

After the film, Steven Brown of First Church Shelter in Cambridge and Jack Leng of the Boston Area Gleaners will moderate a discussion. This film is also screening as part of the Cinema of Resistance series.

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Saturday January 27 at 7pm

Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7)

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

Varda’s international breakthrough film shows, in real time, an hour and a half in the life of a singer as she travels across Paris while waiting for the results of a biopsy. Vain, childish and selfish at the start, Cleo’s journey through Paris is also a journey of self-discovery—she transforms in the course of the film from a passive woman on whom others’ expectations are projected into an active participant in her own life. Cleo’s metamorphosis is reflected in her movements through Paris; the film’s first half is dominated by a shopping excursion in which Cleo is surrounded by mirrors, and in the second half, she literally sheds her false image in order to actively observe the city, eventually striking up a friendship with a soldier on leave. Print courtesy Janus Films.

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Saturday January 27 at 9pm

La Pointe Courte

Directed by Agnès Varda. With Philippe Noiret, Silvia Monfort
France 1955, 35mm, b/w, 82 min. French with English subtitles

With her first feature, Varda set the example for the New Wave, filming on location in the port city of Sète with a small crew and without the benefit of unions or the confines of the strict French studio system. Other than the two leads, actors borrowed from her day job at the Théâtre National Populaire, La Pointe Courte is populated with local fishermen and their families playing versions of themselves, a practice Varda would continue in future films. Nominally based on William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms, La Pointe Courte follows two storylines loosely connected through their location: a young couple whose marriage is on the brink of dissolution visit the husband’s childhood home, while the local fishermen run afoul of government inspectors and manage their day-to-day family lives. Relying on her remarkable eye—honed by her years as a still photographer—Varda crafts visuals of arresting beauty and texture in which Sète and the working life of the village become the focus through which the characters’ actions are refracted. Print courtesy Janus Films.

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Sunday January 28 at 5pm

Daguerréotypes

Directed by Agnès Varda
West Germany/France 1975, 16mm, color, 80 min. French with English subtitles

Varda has lived and worked on the rue Daguerre in Paris since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1974, when she was at home with her two-year-old son, that she turned her inquisitive eye on her neighbors and began working on this documentary about the street and its inhabitants. As in La Pointe Courte, the physical location is inextricably linked to its denizens, and their relationship with the space and the creation of a community drives the film. Tied together by a magician’s street performance, Daguerréotypes follows its mix of shopkeepers and artists as they move through their small street, the world in microcosm. Print courtesy Ciné Tamaris.

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Friday February 2 at 9pm

The Beaches of Agnès
(Les plages d’Agnès)

Directed by Agnès Varda
France 2008, 35mm, color, 110 min. French with English subtitles

“If you opened people up, you would find landscapes,” Varda says in the opening voiceover. “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 1990to 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. Print courtesy Cinema Guild.

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Saturday February 3 at 9pm

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

Directed by Agnès Varda. With Thérèse Liotard, Valérie Mairesse, Ali Rafie
France 1977, 35mm, color, 120 min. French with English subtitles

Varda’s most overtly feminist film, L’une chante, l’autre pas follows the friendship of two very different women over the course of two decades. Pomme is a middle-class rebel whose singing career coincides with her radicalization; Suzanne is a young working-class mother whose financial hardships bring about her activism. Using her trademark blend of fiction and documentary to underscore the historical importance of the nascent women’s movement in France, Varda crafts an uplifting portrait of feminism in the 1970s, capturing the optimism and buoyancy of the moment. Print courtesy Janus Films.

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Agnès Varda in Person

Friday February 23 at 7pm

Faces Places (Visages Villages)

Directed by Agnès Varda
France 2017, DCP, color, 89 min. French with English subtitles

A return to her earliest artistic roots as a still photographer, Varda’s newest film is both a touching companion piece to her beloved The Gleaners and I—and, like that earlier work, a road movie essay film that effortlessly interweaves the personal and political. United with French muralist-artist JR, Varda sets out on a deliberately and poignantly minor voyage to explore the overlooked corners of a depopulated rural France in JR’s giant van, an enormous black box able to create monumental photographic likenesses of locals won over by the seemingly unlikely yet instinctively bonded duo. Faces Places is as much about the life stories encountered along the way as about Varda herself, who muses revealingly about her life as a filmmaker, her friendships, memories and regrets. A late and unexpectedly resolved encounter with the paranoically withdrawn Jean-Luc Godard delivers an emotional jolt to the film that allows us to appreciate the singular empathy and genuine humanism that make Varda such a beloved icon and dedicated artist, one whose work continues to resonate with new audiences. DCP courtesy Cohen Media Group.

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Agnès Varda in Person

Saturday February 24 at 7pm

Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi)

Directed by Agnès Varda. With Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau
France 1985, 35mm, color, 105 min. French with English subtitles

Anchored by Sandrine Bonnaire’s remarkable performance as a woman whose refusal to be known or understood pushes her into a total detachment from society, Vagabond was Varda’s biggest success since Cléo, and, like Cléo, once again focuses on a single female protagonist and her interactions with her environment. Structured in part like a documentary, the film opens 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 on the road. 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. Ultimately, Vagabond investigates not Mona, but the traces and reflections she has left in others. Print courtesy Janus Films.

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Sunday February 25 at 7pm

Cinévardaphoto

Directed by Agnès Varda
France 2004, 35mm, b/w and color, 96 min. English and French with English subtitles

Cinévardaphoto offers a novel take on the omnibus film popular during the many New Waves that came to a crest in Europe during the 1960s. Rather than bring together short films by different auteurs, this is instead a grouping of three works by Varda, each a meditation on her work as a photographer and the inextricable, yet often uncanny, relationship between the still and moving image. A portrait of an eccentric collector of Teddy Bears, Ydessa, The Bears and Etc. is the longest and most recent of the films and an ode to the act of collecting and memory. At the center is the wonderful Ulysse, a touching return to an enigmatic photo staged by Varda in the early 1950s—a scene she dissects with wonderful precision while acknowledging the impossibility of fully knowing the past, even with photographic “evidence” in hand. The final film Salut les Cubains looks nostalgically back at Varda’s brief time in Cuba during the early years of the revolution, sharing some of the hundreds of black-and-white images Varda shot on the island. A celebration of Cuban music and culture, Salut les Cubains is also a wistful tribute to the promise of revolution that swept through the world during the Sixties and would reach a peak in Paris in 1968. Print courtesy Ciné Tamaris.

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Sunday March 4 at 5pm

Documenteur

Directed by Agnès Varda. With Sabine Mamou, Mathieu Demy, Tom Taplin
France/US 1981, 35mm, color, 65 min. French and English with English subtitles

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 divorcée 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 her sense of loss and loneliness. Varda blurs the line between fiction and documentary by incorporating elements from her L.A. document Mur murs and by casting her own son, Mathieu, a practice she would repeat, most notably in Kung Fu Master. Print courtesy Janus Films.

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Sunday March 4 at 7pm

Jacquot de Nantes

Directed by Agnès Varda. With Philippe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud, Laurent Monnier
France 1991, 35mm, b/w & color, 118 min. French with English subtitles

Begun while Jacques Demy was ill and completed after his death, Jacquot de Nantes is Agnès 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, onscreen 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. Print courtesy Ciné Tamaris.

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Monday March 5 at 7pm

Happiness (Le Bonheur)

Directed by Agnès Varda. With Jean-Claude Drouot, Claire Drouot, Marie-France Boyer
France 1964, 35mm, color, 82 min. French with English subtitles

Unlike the bulk of Varda’s work, Le Bonheur, 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 Le Bonheur, “I imagined a summer peach with its perfect colors, and inside, there is a worm.” Print courtesy Janus Films.

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