Film Reviews

TIFF Review: ‘Varda Par Agnès’

A self-portrait of a life well lived

Courtesy of TIFF


Varda By Agnès
(France, 115 min.)
Dir. Agnès Varda
Programme: Special Events (Canadian Premiere)

Agnès Varda’s final film is a bittersweet farewell. It’s difficult to avoid watching Varda By Agnès, which premiered earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival a month before her death, without sensing that Varda knew she was signing off. This poignant self-portrait of a life well lived is a true inspiration. We should all be so lucky to contribute a fraction of the joy to the world that Varda provided in her prolific career.

The doc sees the 90-year-old filmmaker reflect on her filmography from the feminist new wave landmark Cléo from 5 to 7 to her late career masterpieces The Gleaners and I and Faces Places. Varda tours through her films in a series of lectures, which are more akin to intimate storytelling sessions than scholarly seminars. Throughout the lectures and on-the-ground interludes, Varda’s infectious joie de vivre rings true. After making films for over half a century, her childlike sense of wonder for cinema is as evident as ever.

The film plays on Varda’s portrait of actress Jane Birkin, Jane B. par Agnès V., which Varda recalls as a portrait of a middle-aged woman that eschews the usual posthumous celebration of interviews with and archival clips. Unlike Jane B., Agnès V doesn’t use her self-portrait to take on all the roles she hasn’t played. She uses it to relish the role she was born to play: that of the director. Even Meryl Streep couldn’t play this part better than Varda herself.

TIFF runs Sept. 5 to 15. Visit tiff.net for more information.

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Check back for a complete review of Varda by Agnès when it opens theatrically in November.