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Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda: Interviews

Edited by T. Jefferson Kline
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Agnès Varda
    Book Description:

    Over nearly sixty years, Agnès Varda (b. 1928) has given interviews that are revealing not only of her work, but of her remarkably ambiguous status. She has been called the "Mother of the New Wave" but suffered for many years for never having been completely accepted by the cinematic establishment in France. Varda's first film,La Pointe Courte(1954), displayed many of the characteristics of the two later films that launched the New Wave, Truffaut's400 Blowsand Godard'sBreathless. In a low-budget film, using (as yet) unknown actors and working entirely outside the prevailing studio system, Varda completely abandoned the "tradition of quality" that Truffaut was at that very time condemning in the pages ofCahiers du cinema. Her work, however, was not "discovered" until after Truffaut and Godard had broken onto the scene in 1959. Varda's next film,Cleo from 5 to 7, attracted considerably more attention and was selected as France's official entry for the Festival in Cannes. Ultimately, however, this film and her work for the next fifty years continued to be overshadowed by her more famous male friends, many of whom she mentored and advised.

    Her films have finally earned recognition as deeply probing and fundamental to the growing awareness in France of women's issues and the role of women in the cinema. "I'm not philosophical," she says, "not metaphysical. Feelings are the ground on which people can be led to think about things. I try to show everything that happens in such a way and ask questions so as to leave the viewers free to make their own judgments." The panoply of interviews here emphasize her core belief that "we never stop learning" and reveal the wealth of ways to answer her questions.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-998-3
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)

    “I am a woman,” Agnès Varda tells Andrea Meyer, “working with her intuition and trying to be intelligent. It’s like a stream of feelings, intuition, and joy of discovering things. Finding beauty where it’s maybe not. Seeing.” She has pursued this search for “beauty where it’s maybe not” over a remarkable lifetime in art, beginning her search first in the medium of photography and then, from 1954 to the present, moving to the medium of cinema. Few who know the full range of her work could doubt that Varda has succeeded in her quest.

    Agnès Varda has been called “the...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)
  5. Filmography
    (pp. xxvii-2)
  6. Agnès Varda from 5 to 7
    (pp. 3-16)
    Pierre Uytterhoeven and Agnès Varda

    Pierre Uytterhoeven: Let’s talk aboutLa Pointe Courte, that you directed in 1954. Do you still think today that the two themes of the film, treated in such very different styles, can’t be mixed and shouldn’t be?

    Agnès Varda: I had a very precise idea when I didLa Pointe Courteand that was to propose two themes that weren’t necessarily contradictory but which, placed side by side, were problems which were mutually exclusive. They were: a couple coming to grips with their relationship and, on the other hand, a village trying to resolve certain problems through a collective process....

  7. Agnès Varda: The Hour of Truth
    (pp. 17-22)
    Michel Capdenac and Agnès Varda

    Six years ago, well before there was any question of the “New Wave,” a young woman, known for her work as the official photographer for the National Popular Theater (TNP), brought the silver screen a rare, singular, and fascinating work. The critics were enthusiastic aboutLa Pointe courte. There was a lot of talk about the “cinéma d’auteur,” about “personalized” cinema in the wake of Alexandre Astruc’s “camera stylo” (the camera-as-pen). But the public, for its part, reserved judgment. The originality of Agnès Varda’s first film, her style which was later seen to be a precursor to the New Wave,...

  8. A Secular Grace: Agnès Varda
    (pp. 23-37)
    Jean-Andre Fieschi, Claude Ollier and Agnès Varda

    Fieschi & Ollier: Let’s begin at the beginning: with photography …

    Agnès Varda: I was a photographer and I’ve remained one. It’s like a way of seeing. I worked as a photographer for years, but not any more. You lose your touch but you never lose your eye. Now I mostly take photographs for my search for film locations. It’s a better way of seeing things and settings on beautiful 18 x 24 prints laid out on a table. I find it helps me write my scenarios. There’s even a sort of natural linkage in a series of photos where you...

  9. Interview with Agnès Varda
    (pp. 38-40)
    Hubert Arnault and Agnès Varda

    Agnès Varda: I don’t much like talking about people’s work before it’s finished. You know I intend to make more films and to try more and more to see my way clear in all this. I don’t particularly like classifications either. I’ve only made four or five films.

    Hubert Arnault: Well that’s a good start. There are certain problems that you like to tackle. At least that’s the impression your viewer gets.

    AV: Not so much problems really. I’m interested in certain questions. What I believe is that the viewers who get the chance to see my films which might...

  10. The Underground River
    (pp. 41-49)
    Gordon Gow

    Agnès Varda has brought with her to cinema a richness of awareness and a talent to provoke and delight. In this interview with Gordon Gow, she explains her approach to directing, life, and happiness.

    California sunlight beats against the glass of a big window above a bed, making the room too bright in the early morning. So the people who sleep in the bed must try each night to remember to cover the window, because it has neither shutters nor blinds. They choose for the purpose some brightly colored material, through which the dawn light filters gently, touching them with...

  11. Lions Love
    (pp. 50-52)
    Andre Cornand and Agnès Varda

    Filmgoers and cinephiles who loved the short films of Agnès Varda, thenCléo from 5 to 7, Le Bonheur, and perhaps alsoLes Créatures, may be disconcerted byLions Love. And yet it would be misleading to say that America changed the director. Behind a new cinematic structure, we can discern tendencies and preoccupations that were already Varda’s inLa Pointe Courtein 1954 (the contrasts of differing worlds, the play of contradictions), then in 1957 and 1958 withO Saisons, O châteaux, and Opéra MouffeandDu Côté de la Côte(her taste for subjective documentary). We also rediscover...

  12. Mother of the New Wave: An Interview with Agnès Varda
    (pp. 53-63)
    Jacqueline Levitin and Agnès Varda

    Jacqueline Levitin: What has your experience been as a woman filmmaker in France? Were you involved in the women’s movement?

    Agnès Varda: When I started to make films, which was nineteen years ago, there was no women’s movement in France. There were women doing things here and there—in writing, in painting, and music. But there were very few women making films. I didn’t ask myself if it would be difficult for me as a woman to make films; I must say I didn’t start with an inferiority complex. I just thought I would like to make films, so try....

  13. Agnès Varda Talks about the Cinema
    (pp. 64-77)
    Mireille Amiel and Agnès Varda

    Mireille Amiel: SinceLions Lovewe haven’t heard much from Agnès Varda. She has been working onOne Sings and the Other Doesn’t, so I thought getting her to talk about her work would be now or never. I set out for an interview and came back with a long monologue from the author.

    Agnès Varda:Daguerréotypesis a sort of dual project. It’s partly the work of a documentarist (which I like being) and the work of a feminist (which I like being). It’s a film about my neighborhood. La rue Daguerre is a strange street, inhabited by normal...

  14. L’Une Chante, l’Autre Pas: Interview with Agnès Varda
    (pp. 78-88)
    Jean Narboni, Serge Toubiana, Dominique Villain and Agnès Varda

    Narboni, Toubiana, & Villain: We read the press-book of the film and thought it was really well done, the way it talks about the shooting. Now we’d like to ask some questions about before and after, by that we mean the composition of the scenario, for example …

    Agnès Varda: With Claire Clouzot, I tried to put together a press-book of information and notes about the shooting and the team we worked with. Because for this film, the subject and the relationships between my audience and me are more essential than the writing. I’ve been tagged as an intellectual and that’s...

  15. Agnès Varda
    (pp. 89-91)
    Gerald Peary

    Agnès Varda, whose thrillingOne Sings, the Other Doesn’topens the 1977 New York Film Festival, is as pesky as she is petite: compulsively sharp-tongued, opinionated, borderline rude. Shoes kicked off and bare feet slung up on her New York hotel couch, this five-foot Left Bank lily in a purple peasant dress readies for a quarrel. Varda can’t fathom that this film critic has seen little of the work of her favorite woman director, Hungary’s Marta Meszaros. “She has already done six films and three of those are great. It is strange therefore for you to be talking as a...

  16. One Sings, the Other Doesn’t: An Interview with Agnès Varda
    (pp. 92-101)
    Ruth McCormick and Agnès Varda

    Agnès Varda’s name has always been associated with both the women’s struggle and politics. In her twenty years as a film director, she has dealt with subjects as diverse as a pretty young woman who discovers her strength and humanity only after learning she may be dying (Cléo from 5 to 7, 1961), the Cuban Revolution (Salut, les Cubains, 1963), the possibility that one person’s happiness may necessarily cause another’s suffering (Le Bonheur, 1965), the creative process (Les Créatures, 1966), U.S. imperialism in Vietnam (Far from Vietnam, 1967), the black struggle in this country (Black Panthers, 1968), the culture industry,...

  17. Agnès Varda
    (pp. 102-107)
    Philippe Carcasonne, Jacques Fieschi and Agnès Varda

    Far from Beverly Hills, far from all the bustle of Hollywood, Agnès Varda has moved into a house in Venice, a beach town near Los Angeles, formerly built on a series of canals. “The ocean is nowhere,” says the film director, who’s fascinated by the popular art of a neglected community: the Chicanos.

    Carcasonne & Fieschi: Why did you decide to settle here?

    Agnès Varda: Oh I haven’t really “settled” here … I’m here but I don’t feel as though I’ve moved in. I just sort of ended up here a bit by chance, to do a project (which I wrote)...

  18. Interview with Agnès Varda
    (pp. 108-117)
    Françoise Aude, Jean-Pierre Jeancolas and Agnès Varda

    Aude & Jeancolas: Ever sinceLa Pointe Courte, you seem to have had the will or desire to produce your own films yourself.

    Agnès Varda: Is it a matter of will or desire? No, it’s a necessity. I become a producer when “they” don’t want to produce my work or when the project looks like it’s going to be difficult ; after all, who would ever want to produce, find funding for, or work to complete a film such asMur Murs, a film about walls in Los Angeles? AndDocumenteur, a film about words, exile, and pain? These are by...

  19. Interview with Agnès Varda
    (pp. 118-125)
    Françoise Wera and Agnès Varda

    “I’m not behind the camera, I’m IN it!”

    At the time it was said of her that she was one of the most innovative directors of the New Wave. Thirty years and twenty-five films later, Agnès Varda continues an unusual career and a very personal methodology that won her the Lion d’Or at Venice last year for her latest film,The Vagabond(Sans Toit ni Loi). In this remarkable work she traces with almost cold calculation an intense and emotional portrait of a young woman whose enigmatic look and solitude will continue to haunt the memory of those who cross...

  20. Agnès Varda: A Conversation
    (pp. 126-138)
    Barbara Quart and Agnès Varda

    Agnès Varda has been making films for over three decades now, starting out at a time when less than a handful of women were directing. Varda’s longevity as a serious filmmaker, her capacity for survival, is in itself moving, as other august figures have come and gone, their trajectories played out by death or burn-out in one form or another. It is not hard to remember how dazzlingCléo from 5 to 7was when it first appeared in 1962, orLe Bonheurfor that matter in 1965. Varda has come in for her share of criticism but her place...

  21. Interview with Varda on The Vagabond
    (pp. 139-149)
    Jean Decock and Agnès Varda

    In a Provence emptied yesterday of all of its tourists, Mona, the hitchhiker, ends her life of wandering or mistakes, frozen to death. “You feel solitude to the hilt in winter.”

    Maybe there’s no such thing as generosity, there’s only the right way to ask. Mona’s way is as proud as that of the Tarahumara Indians who, according to Artaud, begged only in profile. In any case, imperious, indifferent, and sarcastic, Mona doesn’t beg: “Got a fag?” People give or don’t give according to their mood, the weather, the looks, age, or sex of the Other—we’ve all experienced the...

  22. Agnès Varda: Playing with Tarot Cards
    (pp. 150-155)

    On the day we met, there were sessions for photos, a TV shoot with the crew from Paris-Premiere, the final touches to the editing before the happening for Varda at the Cinémathèque,L’Univers de Jacques DemyandThe 100 and 1 Nights… so why not a fantasy Tarot reading—for each card a symbolic meaning, a discussion of love—just to hear Varda reading?

    Agnès Varda: It’s like the beginning ofCléo… The cards. So here goes. In general I always choose the card with my left hand, but whatever. I’ll take three cards. The little one that’s...

  23. Agnès Varda: A Very Worthy Young Woman
    (pp. 156-159)
    Mario Cloutier and Agnès Varda

    Agnès Varda has been making films for forty years. This woman who has been nicknamed The Grandmother of the New Wave has made seventeen feature-length films and as many short subjects. Experimental, documentary, and fiction films … She’s tried everything with intelligence and a conspiratorial smile. It’s with this same approach that she’s set out themes of death, memory, and the cinema in her latest filmThe Hundred and One Nights.

    Mario Cloutier: After two documentaries of Jacques Demy and two fiction films focusing on Jane Birkin, it’s somewhat surprising to see you arrive here in Montreal with lighter fare....

  24. The Grandmother of the New Wave
    (pp. 160-172)
    Carol Allen and Agnès Varda

    Carol Allen: Tell me about the films being shown in this retrospective.

    Agnès Varda: Some are very old includingLa Pointe Courte, my first film, made in ’54 which was how I became the grandmother of the New Wave. For years this film was never subtitled in English because it’s more a cinematic piece, I would say, than a film for general release. But now it has been subtitled by the ministry of foreign affairs’bureau de cinema. Others in this retrospective are better known, likeCléo from 5 to 7 or Sans Toit ni Loi, calledVagabondhere I...

  25. The Modest Gesture of the Filmmaker: An Interview with Agnès Varda
    (pp. 173-182)
    Melissa Anderson and Agnès Varda

    Often hailed as the grandmother of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda has been making films for nearly fifty years. Her latest film,The Gleaners and I(Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse)—awarded the Melies Prize for Best French Film of 2000 by the French Union of Film Critics—documents those who scavenge and salvage to survive in both rural and urban areas of France. Varda spent several months traveling through France to meet these present-day gleaners, using a digital camera to record her encounters. Varda’s warm, wry voice-over narration is heard throughoutThe Gleaners and I, making the “I”...

  26. The Gleaners and I by Agnès Varda
    (pp. 183-190)
    Julie Rigg and Agnès Varda

    The Gleaners and Iis a decidedly personal video documentary by Agnès Varda, a film ostensibly preoccupied with “rubbish.” Agnès Varda takes us on a journey where we encounter those who live apart from other people—from people who eat out of dumpsters and “glean” provincial fields after harvest, to those who make art from tossed-away furniture and beyond. It’s a brilliant and playful film and one which Julie Rigg declared she was “in love with” when she interviewed Agnès Varda.

    Julie Rigg: Agnès Varda, I’m curious about this film. Did it begin as a film about yourself or a...

  27. Agnès Varda in Toronto
    (pp. 191-192)
    Gerald Peary

    The 2008 Toronto International Film Festival last September proved hospitable to Agnès Varda, offering her latest work, the autobiographicalThe Beaches of Agnès, and reaching back for a rare screening of her 1954 first feature,La Pointe Courte. The “Mother of the French New Wave” was in an expansive, agreeable mood, and one afternoon she consented to sit down in a hotel room amid quickly gathered journalists and just reminisce. She kicked off her shoes, we took notes, and she spoke fervently of her eighty years on earth, fifty-four of them doing cinema: personal, left-political, feminist, subtly experimental.

    “In France,”...

  28. The Beaches of Agnès: An Interview
    (pp. 193-197)
    David Warwick and Agnès Varda

    Renowned veteran director of thenouvelle vagueAgnès Varda returns to UK screens this month withThe Beaches of Agnès(Les Plages d’Agnès). Part autobiography, part documentary, part cinematic essay, Varda’s latest film is a lyrical, free-flowing recollection of her life in and around the cinema.

    Varda studied art history and photography in Paris before making her first feature,La Pointe Courte, in 1954. Thanks to her friendship with Jean-Luc Godard, Varda went on to make the dazzlingCléo de 5 à 7, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1962. Between 1962 and 1990, Varda was married to...

  29. Gleaning the Passion of Agnès Varda
    (pp. 198-202)
    Andrea Meyer and Agnès Varda

    The films of Agnès Varda are always infused with Agnès Varda—her reality, her thoughts, her voice, and her passions. Her fiction films—La Pointe Courte(1954),Cléo from 5 to 7(1961),Le Bonheur(1964),Vagabond(1985)—are great feminist works that experiment with subject and form like the best of the French New Wave. She was considered a precursor to the revered cinematic movement of Truffaut and Godard, and was clearly influential in tone and style. Varda is perhaps best known, however, for her talent as a documentarian, which enhanced both her fictional and non-fiction films. Even dramatic...

  30. Additional Resources
    (pp. 203-208)
  31. Index
    (pp. 209-216)