Cinephiles know the brilliant director's name, but the rest of the world should too.
Agnès Varda died Thursday night at 90 years old, leaving behind a generation of filmmakers and viewers touched by her candor, and inspired by her persistence and down-to-earth inquisitiveness. The best way to appreciate her curiosity, intelligence, and sense of humor is through her films, and fortunately, many Varda films are available on streaming — all engaging, lively, human, and heartbreaking.
Starting off with narratives ranging from blunt slice-of-life to observational quiet, she moved more towards documentary later in life, always bringing her earlier career as still photographer to bear with beautiful compositions and thoughtful subject choices. Her first feature film
La Pointe Court kicked off the French New Wave years before the movement's more lauded male directors even picked up cameras.
Some of her better-known work, including
One Sings, The Other Doesn't, Vagabond, and Mur Murs aren't currently available on streaming. Lucky for everyone they should be shortly. Criterion is launching its own streaming service, Criterion Channel on April 8, with a discount for signing up before the official launch. But don't let convenience bar the way from seeking out her work in the meantime. Varda's films are worth the effort. Here's where you can find them:
Simultaneously simple and complicated, the film follows a restless pop singer as she wanders around the city for two hours, expecting and dreading the results of her biopsy. Cléo is charming, selfish, needy, and scared, seeking comfort and finding distraction in the city and people around her. It's Varda's best-known and likely most beloved film for good reason.
Streaming on Kanopy.
Happily married family man François leads a charmed life, but wants
more happiness. He begins an affair with an attractive postal worker, Émilie; though Émilie warily asks him about his marriage, he charms her and continues cheating. Wife Therese notices his marked overall joy, and "unable" to lie to her, he tells her it's because of his affair, breaking her heart. Reading the film as peak '60s radical condemnation of morality misses Varga's insight into the selfishness and lack of responsibility that some will now call "self-care." Streaming on Kanopy.
Screen Slate interview, Varda explained the happy confluence that led to this film, portraits of the mundane day-to-day and people in it, doing work that was already becoming archaic as she documented — butchers, parfumerists, shelf-stocking local grocers. "True, I was happy to have a newborn baby and did not wish to be away for shooting. Chance gave me a proposition from a German television channel to do a project on my shopkeeper neighbors I had spoken about. So I was able to make the film and never be more than 90 meters away from my baby!" Streaming on Fandor.
Jane Birkin and Varda work without the oppressive expectations of men in this film riffing on Birkin's long-running label of "muse," but come back around to similar power dynamics as actor and director, with Birkin in tableaus as Joan of Arc, a weary mother, and an artist assistant, among others.
Jake Cole's Slant review, comparing this film to Varda's other Birkin collaboration Kung-Fu Master!, notes, "Each [film] allows the protagonist greater freedom to exert her own desires, but heavily established roles can never be fully overridden." Streaming on Kanopy and Fandor.
'Agnès Varda: From Here To There'
This five-part miniseries follows Varda all over the globe as she visits friends and filmmakers and meets new people, musing on memory and riffing on connections. This longer
article does the history behind many of the series' episodes far more justice, though you don't need to know any of it be drawn in to Varda's engaging doc. Film Comment Streaming on Hoopla and Fandor.
Varda and muralist JR go on a road trip in this sweet, charming film about human communication. The conceit:
she and JR drive a van all over with a mobile poster printer, photograph someone, print out their now-enormous image ("Faces") and paste it on the nearest blank wall ("Places"). The subject talks about their life and how they feel seeing their oversized visage, showing the everyday doesn't equal the mundane. Streaming on Netflix and Kanopy.
Jane Birkin co-wrote this film with Varda, where she plays a 40 year-old divorcee who falls for the friend (played by Varda's son Mathieu Demy) of her 14-year-old daughter (Birkin's own daughter Charlotte Gainsburg), in this intimate examination as far from salacious as the plot might suggest. Peter Labuza sums it up in his
Film Stage review: "Varda’s camera simply peers into the kind of lonely soul who would desire someone willing to spend time with her, even if only for the adolescent escape of video games." Streaming on Kanopy and Fandor.
Varda's amazing short film documents the Black Panthers at a vulnerable, volatile time, when their members were being targeted, harassed, and murdered by police. Taking place at a rally to free imprisoned co-founder Huey P. Newton, it's a riveting portrait of people stating who they are and what they believe in, with no distortion.
Streaming on Archive.org.
"I'm something of a leftover myself," Varda deadpanned to the
at the premiere of this documentary, inspired by a painting of the same name. Following scavengers of food, crops, materials, and whatever others think of as useless leftovers, Varda shows need and pride while meditating on her own filmmaking as "gleaning." New York Times Streaming on Kanopy and Amazon.
A collection of three shorts (
Ulysse, Salut Les Cubains, Ydessa), this film is a wonderful sampler of Varda's malleable documentary work focused on others, as she was often the subject of her later work. Her previous career as a successful still photographer comes through, particularly in Ulysse, where she tracks down the subjects from a photo she took in 1954. Streaming on Kanopy.
"I'm playing the role of a little old lady telling her story." In her most deeply personal and emotional film, Varda breaks down her own persona and sifts through her life, including her signing the
Manifesto of the 343, her relationship with recently deceased husband Jaques Demy, and her childhood. Amy Taubin correctly stated in CinemaGuild, "The film is a veritable emotional roller coaster...But if there is much sadness, there is also much joy and excitement." Streaming on Hoopla, Kanopy, and Fandor.
The film world lost a giant this week. The best tribute to Agnès Varda's memory is sharing her singular talent with others through her work.