film 5 of 5

The Beaches of Agnès

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

There are some very beautiful things here. I love the part near the beginning where Varda uses that big mirror to actually frame and explicitly honour her collaborators. Big mirrors don’t belong on a beach, you say? They do now. The multi-media recounting of her childhood, including some present day and very obvious reenactments, work very well too. This may be because however eccentric her concepts sometimes are, Varda is basically a photographer, and a very good one. Things that look good just have a better chance of thinking or feeling good.

I find the glancing frankness of glancing sexual subjects—at this point anyway—are quite grandmotherly. Which I find to be good! Desire, along with its delights and complications, are not altogether in an elderly person’s past. But it is possible that time has provided some wisdom and perspective, and that’s what you get with Varda’s balanced take. Her straightforwardness feels like the natural and healthy way to address it all. This fact very much relates to the Jacques Demy sequence, which is so tender, and, once again, the right way to start with and finish any AIDS or gender discussion. To exclusively key on the act, or the impropriety thereof, is to adopt the language of the oppressors. These are loving, beloved people, and it’s a great loss. The moving portraits of Varda’s family at the end are also lovely  The whole fact of that home of theirs is also really important, cool, an invitation or a reproach. Live beautifully.

I notice something else, though. I vaguely recall reading something that Roger Ebert wrote about this, once. So vaguely do I recall it, that I can’t quite put my hand on it, or at all remember the source. (And that’s about as properly cited as that reference is going to get!) Excuse my French, but here goes. Heart-shaped potatoes are okay, but let’s not push it. The dancing lens cap sequence in The Gleaners and I is really dumb, no matter what you fawning sentimentalists may say to the contrary. The Beaches of Agnés starts to suggest that the dancing lens cap sequence may be more emblematic, more typical of our auteuse than we might have thought. Artists over philistines, we always say, and we’re probably right. You know, haiku, Hans Christian Andersen, beautiful homemaking, etc. But there is a good chance that a highly conceptual and installation-forming, a perpetual, insistent grant-seeking or grant-getting artist, may just be really, really weird!

Some collective autobiography. Once I scheduled this film for a documentary history class, here at BYU. I liked Agnés Varda. (After the foregoing, I still do.) I’d seen lots of her films, admired and appreciated her. Sometimes you want to see something new!

Well, you know where this is going don’t you? Remember what I was saying about glancing frankness about glancing sexual subjects? Just so, until that one particular shot. A two shot of a smiling man and woman, looking out at the camera. Well something told me, on the instant, what was about to follow. She’s going to pull back, isn’t she? They’re not going to be wearing any clothes, are they. Right I am. But in addition to that there was a further happy surprise. Tumescence, you might say!

Well, we all had a good agricultural laugh about that one. Yeehah! Thing is, I found in a strangely appropriate way that I was as paralyzed as the soon-to-be victims of deadly serpents are reputed to be. Oh well. When it comes down to it, you do your best, and we bear with each other. Or, when it comes down to it, educational films are good, sometimes you see what you see, and then go on, unscathed, to the next good surprising thing.