Amidst a Sea of Faces and Places
Agnes Varda, the director of the documentary feature, FACES PLACES, is widely considered the “Mother of French New Wave” Cinema. Making narrative and documentary films for over six decades, at 90 years old Varda is the oldest Oscar nominee in history. In November 2017, she received an Honorary Oscar. At the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018, Agnes was among the women standing with the organization 50x50x2020’s red carpet protest for gender equality within the entertainment industry.
FACES PLACES struck me as an homage to the human experience—what it means to belong to a village, to meet strangers, to grow old, to remember. In the film, French film director Agnès Varda and artist JR traverse France in a van equipped with a photo booth and a large-format printer. At each stop they memorialize the men, women, and animals they encounter; their portraits are blown up and pasted onto the facades of homes, farms, and even shipping containers.
At 90 years old, Varda is both inquisitive and open, offering as much about herself as she likes to glean from others. She ebbs and flows from the present into the past with ease. I imagine her inner musings as being braided with memories. Each village seems to hold a trove of memories that opens, like a flower, to her touch; a beach in Normandy served as the backdrop, years ago, for her portraits of the late Artist Guy Bourdin.
JR is lively, her film partner, is young and towers over Varda. In one scene, he bounds through the halls of the Louvre, pushing Varda in a wheelchair. The duo is unlikely, but their friendship embodies the nature of their art. Transcending barriers of age, location, and socio-economic class, their connection is empathetic and celebratory.
Among their escapades, the one that resonated most with me takes place in the port city of Le Havre. Varda and JR are greeted by three dockworkers. Instead of taking their portraits, Varda asks to meet their wives. Her intent is to celebrate the “totem women” who are often overlooked, women who love their husbands fiercely but also have a narrative of their own to share—one, for instance, is the only female truck driver in her company.
Varda’s desire to illuminate the narratives that are otherwise left in the shadows is one that I share with her. For me, this desire takes the form of writing features on people, and trying my best to accurately convey the complexity and depth of their stories.
I aspire to humanize the news through my journalistic work, whether it may entail interviewing students on campus with undocumented relatives when immigration was at the forefront of the 2016 election season, or talking to women who have left the sex industry in Cambodia about their reintegration into society. In all that I write, I hope to imbue it with the same spirit and zest for life that Varda carries within herself.