Not only did the 57th New York Film Festival dedicate the event to Agnès Varda (1928-2019) but it also showcased her last film, “Varda by Agnès,” a compelling and often touching autobiographical look at the career and life of the iconic director, who was a towering figure in the French New Wave and then continued doing significant work in the decades that followed up to her death. She did not always get the recognition she deserved, but by the end of her life there was no question as to her key place in the world of cinema.
I began reviewing her films after I became film critic at Cue Magazine back in the 1960s. Along the way I got to meet and interview Varda, and we’d touch base during her trips to New York. I therefore had a personal take on her, and the impression she made was one of being totally dedicated and fighting to be sure that her work got sufficient distribution to play before enough audiences interested in French cinema and cinema in general.
Her film “Varda by Agnès,” coming to us in the year of her death at 90, is in one sense a farewell. But it also comes through as a summing up of her take on her professional and personal life. In it she dispenses reflections and analysis, sometimes before an audience. Of course, she also was a feminist, and that becomes clear.
There are clips from films that she made and the film is graced with evidence of her creative photographic imagery. We are also made aware of her love for filmmaker Jacques Demy, her husband who died in 1990. Anyone who is interested in Varda’s important career should be sure to see her final bow.
Even beyond that, a major Varda retrospective is coming up at Film at Lincoln Center. The series will include more than 30 Varda films made in her career that spanned more than 60 years. The Varda retrospective begins December 20. “Varda by Agnès,” is a Janus Films release. Reviewed October 22, 2019.