This week, as planned, I did some digging into my Agnès Varda box set. I had previously only seen Cleo from 5 to 7, which I loved, so I was excited to see more. While now my Varda count is only up to 4, I feel confidant saying I’m hooked. Varda’s feminist take on film is refreshing. Her films show a simple but realistic female view in contrast to her male peers. I look forward to watching her entire filmography.
La Pointe Courte (Agnès Varda, 1955)
For as much as I now love Agnès Varda, this film alone would not have been enough to get me there. While there’s nothing wrong with film, it very much feels like a first film from someone with no prior experience. I enjoyed the premise, a study of a small town and the people who lived there, and the fish out of water story of a Paris socialite being introduced to the small town was also intriguing.
What I found lacking was the discipline and voice that a director should bring to a project. The plot had potential to be brilliant, but the inexperience outweighs the potential. After this film, Varda’s second outing was Cleo from 5 to 7, so it obviously didn’t take her long to find her groove.
Le Bonheur (Agnès Varda, 1965)
After La Pointe Courte and Cleo from 5 to 7, I would not have expected this. I think this film is absolutely brilliant. We’re presented with a perfect family of 4 on an idyllic summer day. We then follow the husband as he meets and starts an affair with another woman. In his mind, he is doing nothing wrong as he has so much love to give, but his wife despite initially feigning understanding can’t handle the betrayal. After a short period of mourning, he ends up continuing his idyllic family life with the mistress as a replacement wife.
Le Bonheur possesses a level of satyr and metaphor that the other films in this set lack. Her other pieces show us the thoughts and experiences of their characters, and each character has a depth that we get to explore. I feel a connection to each character. With Le Bonheur, in contrast, no one stands out. Instead of focusing on character, it examines familial roles, specifically that of a wife.
While never outright funny, a strong level of satire permeates the entire piece. Between the over-the-top, but appropriate, score to the interactions between each character, nothing is quite life like. This artificiality is used to attack the stories portrayal of a woman’s role in life as an interchangeable wife. Varda quite obviously did not believe in that idea, and created a memorable piece of satire to that extent.
Vagabond (Agnès Varda, 1985)
Vagabond, the final film in the set, comes 20 years after Le Bonheur, and is a return to the character driven narrative. Bookmarked by her death, Vagabond follows the last few weeks of a Mona’s, a drifter, life. Mona is a lone soul traveling with no home and no direction, but is perfectly fine with that decision. It’s the people whom she meets that project insecurities and weakness on her.
Despite the lack of ambition and judgement of those around her, the film doesn’t judge her. We get to follow her, and if not understand her at least see how she chooses to live her life despite the opportunities given by others. We learn nothing more about why she chose this life, but I feel for her, and the emotional and physical abuse she had to endure during her last few weeks, let alone what she must have gone through before. With Vagabond, I feel that Varda has returned to where she started, and what she set out to do. To be a female voice telling the stories of women in a world dominated by men.