AGNES’S BEACHES (Agnès Varda, 2008)

Although a notch below her Vagabond (1985) and Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000), Belgian-born Agnès Varda’s farewell film, the autobiographical documentary Les plages d’Agnès, is her most deeply affecting piece. Throughout watching it, I was either in tears or close to tears. It isn’t too much to say that Agnès (pronounced on-YES), along with actress Ingrid Bergman, has been the most widely loved woman having had anything to do with the movies ever. With its tender feelings, witty inflections (both verbal and visual), Felliniesque pizzazz, snippets of actual documentary and breathtaking bits of reconstruction, Agnès’s last film—if her announced aim that it be this holds—will do nothing to interfere with our boundless affection for this remarkable photographer-turned-filmmaker and original member of the nouvelle vague.
     Certainly I was most moved—indeed, at moments shaken anew—at everything pertaining to her decades-long marriage to Jacques Demy, especially his death from AIDS-related cerebral hemorrhage in 1990. When Agnès, who appears throughout and contributes commentary, speaks of her dear Jacques, we feel the most poignant rush; how exacting is her low-keyed indirection at one point: Agnès recalling her expectation that the two of them would grow old together, “especially after we got back together.” Seeing these two throughout the years, his hair growing gray, her slender form becoming “pleasingly plump” (her description), implicates us all in its metaphor for the passage of time. The sight of their children and grandchildren is as sad as it is joyous; it is everything that life is.
     Life, however, includes everything we pour into it, and Varda’s spacious film—with its charming refrain of her facing the camera and walking backwards, space conforming to time timelessly—is full of visual and editing inventiveness.
     Agnès: “While I live, I will remember.”

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