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Varda by Agnes


Stars: Agnes Varda

Director: Agnes Varda

Contemporary movie reviewers should hail American film critic Andrew Sarris as a celluloid saint for coming up with the phrase 'auteur theory' - the theory of filmmaking in which the director is viewed as the major creative force in a motion picture - since dubbing directors as auteurs (theoretically) implies that they and nobody else (ignoring actors, film crews and everyone else involved in bringing a film to the screen) are the true cinematic creators.

The auteur theory, advanced in France in the late 1940s, was relentlessly plugged in the cinematic bible Cahiers du Cinema, and remains one of the most over-used critical cop-outs employed when writing about trendy movies.

That said, this riveting documentary about the life and work of legendary Belgium-born filmmaker Agnes Varda ('I never wanted to say anything. I just wanted to look at people and share'), written, directed by and starring Varda, entirely proves she earned the right to be hailed as an auteur.

Belgian-born Varda - then 90 and still making films - created this fascinating film using a series of lectures she gave to a rightly appreciative audience to deliver a fascinating and flagrantly self-centred - journey through a unique career that began in 1941 as a photographer, segued into filmmaking with 1954's La Pointe Courte and continued to create a memorable treasury of some 50 movies including her rightly celebrated 1962 masterpiece Cleo de 5 a 7.

Notably she is quoted as having said, 'I didn't go to film school. I was never an assistant or trainee on a film. I had not seen all those cameras. So I think it gave me a lot of freedom'.

That creative freedom paid off handsomely and uniquely as well.

Varda (who was rightly awarded an honorary Palme D'Or at Cannes in 2015 for her life's work and in 2017 became the first female director to be awarded an Honorary Academy Award) is compelling here on both sides of the camera.

Here, accompanied with a fascinating supporting cast of actors she has worked with, including Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Sandrine Bonnaire and, amusingly over-emoting as always, Robert De Niro, Varda emerges as a genuine one-of-a-kind filmmaker who fascinatingly proves she could talk a good film as well as make one. She died earlier this year.

Alan Frank

France 2019. UK Distributor: BF!. Colour.
115 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 21 Jul 2019