more than a decade after The Beaches Of Agnès was released, the Belgian filmmaker Agnès Varda returns with her deeply charming and insightful film, Faces Places, which hits cinemas the year of her 90th birthday.
This new road-trip documentary sees the director accompanied by the 35-year-old French photographer and installation artist known only as JR. Together they travel through rural and industrial towns, talking to locals and photographing them. JR’s van is a mobile photobooth, equipped with a massive printer capable of producing blown-up images. These they plaster onto the walls of the places they visit.
The diminutive filmmaker, who came to prominence during the French New Wave, looks almost comical next to the towering JR. With her red-and-white bowl haircut, Varda may be small but she’s as forceful as ever, occasionally reprimanding JR, her surrogate-son-like figure, for wearing his hipster sunglasses all the time. They make for an arresting odd couple as they bicker, have fun, and meet everyone from miners to farmers on their journey.
There is a certain spontaneity that keeps the film feeling fresh as they navigate the back roads of France. While never sharply political, there’s certainly a social dimension to the work, revealing and celebrating the identity of the working class.
The duo’s aim of leaving something with the communities that they visit (in the form of the giant posters) comes without a hint of pretension. It’s a small gift to artistically reflect and reshape how each community is perceived, and is as open-hearted as everything they do.
There is a joyous, youthful quality to Faces Places. It’s easy to see why it won the Golden Eye Award at Cannes last year, and an Academy Award nomination. At once light-hearted and profound, this is a film crafted with a generosity of spirit, as we merrily watch both young and old go about the business of creating art.