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TIFF08: A trip to Agnès' beach

TIFF08: A trip to Agnès’ beach
Les Plages d'Agnès (Agnès Varda, France), a gentle, softly whimsical memoir-like reminiscence on video, pulls at strands of cineaste Agnès Varda’s life, from her movies to her childhood, from her husband (filmmaker Jacques Demy, who died in 1990), to her photography and art exhibits. No ordinary biopic or autobiographical documentary, Varda’s video, like her character, is sweet, smart, off-hand, and comical. She directly steps into every element of the film, letting no re-staging of a memory, clip from one of her films, or visit to an old location stand by without a fanciful intrusion, a brief and touching interjection, a humble downplaying but convincing insistence on what is important in her life.
Both digressive and nuanced, the video picks up the big events in Varda’s life—biggest among them her relationship with, and the premature death of her husband—and small, mirrors on a beach and the quay where she played as a child during the war. Demy’s evocation is heartfelt and moving, but is underscored by Varda’s dancing points of interest in her own life, each parenthetical given a soft, caring touch. The range, though modest, is emotionally great: the affection for the alleyway running between the filmmaker’s Paris house which has played a subtle but crucial background role in numerous films and photographs; the wry and inquisitive interference of filmmaker Chris Marker (voice humorously disguised, and given his usual avatar of a cartoon cat stand-in), rolling his eyes about Varda’s claim she saw only 10 films before her 1954 debut film, La Pointe-courte, and asking where she was during May 68; catching up with actors and friends from her past, or Les Plages d'Agnès moving the filmmaker’s entire production office into the street and turning it into a beach (the landscape of her character, according to Varda). The video is a small but continually unexpected telling of Varda’s story, the people and things in her life, and the wonderful things she has created.

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