The World Remembers Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda photographer during production of Faces Places
Cohen Media Group

By Pat Mullen

Few filmmakers will leave a legacy as grand as Agnès Varda did. Scrolling through social media yesterday, the impact of Varda’s work was everywhere as cinephiles around the world paid tribute to the endearing filmmaker, who died yesterday at the age of 90.

One can’t help but be sad, yet Varda demonstrated every aspect of a life enjoyed to the fullest. It’s hard to find a photo of her without an infectious smile on her face. Even at 88-years-young, she turned in one of the best films of her career with the whimsical portraiture doc Faces Places, co-directed with artist JR, and became a social media icon on the award season campaign trail. For me, Faces Places is Varda’s best work because it foregrounds the simplicity and delicacy with which she captures every day life. Varda’s films are at their best when they remind us of the power of seeing one’s life reflected in images and stories.

Varda left behind a remarkable body of work that changed the game for storytelling and film form with her pioneering art that led the French New Wave. Varda’s films like Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961), La Pointe Courte (1954), Vagabond (1985), The Gleaners and I (2000), and The Beaches of Agnès (2008), among others, were glass ceiling breakers as Varda carved a space in the male-dominated film industry and often came first while carving a space for female filmmakers. Creating a distinct oeuvre in both drama and documentary, Varda connected with audiences through her uniquely empathetic style and humanism. She taught us that films could be unabashedly personal and that they’re often better when they are.

Beyond the films are the legions of filmmakers and cinephiles she inspired. Tributes poured in around the web as cinephiles touched by Varda’s work reflected on the influence of her films and career. Here are some highlights as the film community gave thanks to Agnès Varda and her movies, influence, infectious joie de vivre, and love of cats:

The editors of cléo, named in tribute to Varda’s titular protagonist, offer a collection of memories in a special e-newsletter.

NOW Magazine’s Norm Wilner looks back at Varda’s career and a TIFF encounter that conveyed her genuine interest in learning other people’s stories.

Variety’s Peter Debrudge reflects on Varda’s legacy, aptly noting, “Few filmmakers have been able to look back on all they’ve done with the same certainty that each and every thing they’ve created has come from such a personal place, motivated not by commerce but a compulsion to connect, with her subjects and her audience.”

Alyssa Wilkinson remembers Varda’s experimental style and (re)invention of cinema.

At The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw recalls Varda’s youthful spirit, while the outlet offers a photo essay of the filmmaker’s life in pictures.

Rachel Donadio writes at The Atlantic about Varda’s unique ability to make people feel recognized.

And here are some of the many remembrances from social media:
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I seriously doubt that Agnès Varda ever followed in anyone else’s footsteps, in any corner of her life or her art…which were one in the same. She charted and walked her own path each step of the way, she and her camera. Every single one of her remarkable handmade pictures, so beautifully balanced between documentary and fiction, is like no one else’s—every image, every cut… What a body of work she left behind: movies big and small, playful and tough, generous and solitary, lyrical and unflinching…and alive. I saw her for the last time a couple of months ago. She knew that she didn’t have much longer, and she made every second count: she didn’t want to miss a thing. I feel so lucky to have known her. And to all young filmmakers: you need to watch Agnès Varda’s pictures. Rest in price Agnès.

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