CINEVARDAPHOTO (Agnès Varda, 2004)

Cinévardaphoto comprises a trio of documentaries by Agnès Varda, each of which involves photographs. These short films were made at different points in Varda’s career.
     The first one is amazing. “Ydessa, the Bears, and Etc.” revolves around Toronto curator Ydessa Hendeles, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, whose exhibit of voluminous photographs including teddy bears, especially in Varda’s thrilling long-shots of rooms in the exhibition space in a Munich museum, evokes Alain Resnais’s All the Memory of the World (1956), about France’s national library. The lion’s share of the photographs, quite old (for instance, in sepia), pair children and their teddy bears—but not all do this: one wonderful photograph shows two men playing chess, with a teddy bear on top of the table, behind the two chess players and facing us. The stuffed toy’s blank stare contrasts with the men’s demeanors, which remind us of young children’s absorption at play, which is additionally thrown into relief by our knowledge of the game’s mental demands and sophistication. Similarly, the photographic pairings of young children and teddy bears evoke a poignant atmosphere of innocence—in the context that both Hendeles and Varda conjure, the innocence that the Holocaust peculiarly assaulted. Hendeles notes that her exhibit exists betwixt fantasy and reality. Gradually, Varda’s film devastates.
     The springboard for “Ulysse” is a photograph, taken by Varda on a beach, in 1953 or 1954. A naked man approaches a young boy, also naked, who is tending to his own thoughts and space; a third figure, a dead goat, participates in the image. About thirty years later, Varda interviews the man whom the boy has grown up to become. He doesn’t recall the incident at all—not even the goat. Varda’s fantastical photograph doesn’t cross the interviewee’s “reality.”
     Finally, “Salut les Cubains” consists of photographs taken by Varda in Cuba in 1963. Castro having swept away Batista’s vicious regime, the images, collaged about a decade later, capture such hope for the future. Where does fantasy end and reality begin? Chris Marker assisted Varda with the editing.

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