AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
THROUGH A GLASS, BRIGHTLY
by Harlan Kennedy
An extra layer of
visual ravishment was laid on at the
Anyone for misty water-coloured memories? Of the “way we were”…..?
Agnes Varda’s LES PLAGES D’AGNES and Ross McElwee’s
And they do. McElwee has been our tour guide before through backwaters
of his life, in
The process is supposed to take a few days. It takes a few weeks – four, five, six, seven. The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly, even Kafkaesquely, milling to flour-dust the patience of Ross, his wife and his 5-year-old son Adrian, who was never keen on the trip’s objective anyway. “Do you like having a baby sister?” asks dad, allowed to dandle the new tot before she has fully shed her red tape. “No, not really,” answers Adrian, a deadpan charmer of heedless candor, who goes on to purloin every scene he is in.
The bewitchment, or a good one, is that it has no predetermined ending. It is open-plan narrative art. We have no idea, nor does the director, how the story will end, or even if it will end.
Will the family leave
By the time the family
has been to
Even more than Ross McElwee, Agnes Varda in LES PLAGES D’AGNES knows she is creating an artifact from reality – a story from storylessness. But in the best memoirs and self-portraits the storylessness, after a fashion, is the story. A portrait of oneself says: “Nothing is really ‘happening’ here” (though of course a hundred things are, quietly, subterraneanly). “The only overt drama, if you need to find one, is the transmigration of me from a mundane living dimension into a pictorial or iconic one.”
Just so here, as the
80-year-old veteran of the French New Wave launches her remembrances. “I’m
playing the role of a plump little old lady,” she overvoices,
“telling her life story.” This little old lady might have been played by Lila
Kedrova when alive: a bustling plump-waisted gamine with fallen face-lines but eyes as large
as stars and the moue of a
The mirrors casually strewn on the opening scene’s beach are the film’s introductory burst of symbolism. As Varda and her pals and film crew drift in and out of reflections, they seem caught in a kaleidoscopic dimension between reality and fiction.
Varda tells of her
childhood in the Mediterranean fishing town of
The real Varda has now bobbed in these seas so long it is no wonder she depicts herself, in some scenes, oaring a rowboat. She rows backwards, just as in dry-land scenes she walks backwards: more symbolism. Regressing in time, she regresses in motion. Varda is old enough and wise enough to be able to play the fool. In an excerpt from her surrealist play PATATOPIA she is seen dressed as a walking potato while her chum Chris Marker (the august director of LA JETEE) plays a cat in a cardboard feline costume.
Varda once, she recalls
with bits of old footage, went to
Who knows? Perhaps that roused the lion in Ford and decided him to become a superstar. In Varda-land everything, Voltaireanly, turns out for the best in the best of all possible worlds. If LES PLAGES D’AGNES has a fault it is its author’s tendency to project her optimistic vision – or her robust rainbow-filtering of reality – on the rest of the world. Even the catastrophes are colourful, like her father’s death in a gambling casino, cut short by divine mercy during a losing streak.
It is impossible, even
so, to dislike this film. Those multiple mirrors, ricocheting
their reflections on a
LES PLAGES D’AGNES is a different film from IN PARAGUAY, more fantastical, more eclectic, more upbeat, more bricoleur. At the same time, the two movies have a kinship, even a twinship. They are two memory gigs in love with the continuous present that is cinema. They are two movies that leave themselves on the doorstep like time capsules, their casings sealed with a loving click, their cargoes designed to lurk on through history, waiting to be unpacked and reappraised by each successive generation.
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved