It’s already been two weeks since the Arte platform offered to immerse yourself in the cinema of Agnès Varda (1928-2019), her first feature film, La Pointe courte, made with inheritance money father in 1954, to his last fiction, The Hundred and One Nights of Simon Cinéma (1995), forty years later – eleven films in all.

On October 30, we discovered, still on, Viva Varda!, the free and beautiful documentary by Pierre-Henri Gibert, presented a few days earlier at the Cinemed festival in Montpellier. Whether we need reference points to find ourselves in the journey of Agnès Varda, famous outsider, authoritarian anarchist, iconoclast who shaped her own image, or whether we are old enough spectators to want to retrace the path accomplished in her company, Viva Varda! offers flashes of harsh light, unsuspected perspectives, intoxicating bursts of nostalgia. It’s difficult, after seeing Gibert’s film, not to give in to the desire to revisit everything we know, to see what remains to be discovered.

We can attribute part of the singularity of Agnès Varda’s destiny to destiny and history. While she was destined for a bourgeois childhood in Belgium – her father was a rich industrialist – the exodus of 1940 made her spend the Second World War on a barge moored in the port of Sète (Hérault), next to a boat occupied by a tribe of artists. We can also think that, whatever the circumstances, Agnès Varda would have gone off the straight and narrow, since it is she who decides on each turn of her life, that she prefers learning the profession of photographer to university, whether she decides to suddenly spend her father’s inheritance to make a film or to raise her first child, Rosalie, alone.

Long live Varda! shows just enough images from the films made by his prodigious subject so that we can appreciate his faculty of innovation, in the shots of La Pointe Courte, or, seven years later (because we don’t does not inherit every day to finance its productions, and that French cinema did not then shine with its feminism), in those of her second feature film, Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962), the film which finally ensured her glory. From his meeting with Jacques Demy, his companion – whose cinema is the polar opposite of that of Varda – Pierre-Henri Gibert’s film does not hide the complexity, the ambiguities which will lead to the despair in love as demonstrated by Documenteur, this fiction, directed in 1980, steeped in reality, the most painful of the director’s films.

Artistic freedom

The tone is sometimes gently ironic when it comes to following the construction of the Varda system. Without ever forgetting that this mix of business and public relations acumen was first and foremost a matter of survival. Agnès Varda was not one of those filmmakers who thrive on compromise and negotiation. Making her intransigence a trademark, she manages again and again, sometimes barely, to keep bankruptcy at bay, with the unexpected triumphs of Without roof or law, in 1985, or Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse, in 2000. Her collaborators, her children speak of the fierce energy, the violence, sometimes, that she put into the pursuit of her artistic freedom.

It is enough to see just one of the feature films available on (but it is better to see them all) to see that this fight ended with a clear victory. The Short Pointe immediately offers a model of freedom and grace even in its imperfections. The collision between theater and photography, between a couple of Parisians who are falling apart (Philippe Noiret and Silvia Monfort) and the daily chronicle of the life of the fishermen of Pointe Courte, in Sète, in the fight against poverty and power, generates a simple and inexhaustible beauty punctuated by these shots which make the neighborhood’s stray cats the chorus of this sweet tragedy.

With the same gentleness, to which is now added a merciless lucidity, Le Bonheur (1965) depicts the dissolution of a couple (Jean-Claude and Claire Drouot) at the very moment when prosperity reaches out to them. In 1977, L’une chante, l’autre pas draws on fresh memories of the fight for the right to abortion (when lawyer Gisèle Halimi participates in the reconstruction of the Bobigny trial of 1972, for example) , of which Varda was an activist, to outline a feminist utopia. Spending the fall with Agnès Varda (to whom the Cinémathèque française is also devoting a retrospective and an exhibition), is to explore one of those rare places where the realm of possibility and the empire of desire coincide.