MIFF Review: Faces Places

88-year old Agnes Varda is back with her latest whimsical doco, and this one rhymes in two languages – Faces Places or in the original French Visage Village

This time Varda, who’s brought us such enchating treats over the decades as The Gleaners and I and Cleo from 5 to 7, has again delivered a film with a deceptively simple surface that nevertheless is brimming with that special humanity she has in such huge reserves.

Varda isn’t what she used to be physically, so she has brought on board a 33-year old co-director, the equally ebullient visual artist known simply as JR.

Together they travel the French countryside, visting small towns and taking photos of the townsfolk they meet. They blow the photos up to an enormous size and plant them on the front of houses, buildings and other structures.

Varda and JR talk to the people, among them farmers and factory workers, get to know a bit about them and their lives, and pay homage to them with the photos they take. There’s also a lot of playful banter between the two artists, as they reflect on their careers, their art, on ageing and how they engage with others.

It’s a simple concept, but as with all of Varda’s projects, it sneaks up on you and before you know it you’re completely invested emotionally in what you’re seeing.

This emotional investment culminates with an unexpected catharsis at the film’s end. Varda decides to introduce her young co-director to one of her contemporaries, Jean Luc Godard. She’s known Godard for most of her career, and given she keeps comparing JR, with his insistance on always wearing sunglasses, to the iconic director, she becomes increasingly excited about getting her young collaborator to meet with her life long artistic comrade. What we witness next is disarmingly affecting.  

Who knows how many films the pixie-like Varda has left in her. All the more reason to enjoy Faces Places and witness that eternally curious mind, uncovering little stones and sharing with us her wry observations.

With film festivals continuing to serve us a steady stream of documentaries and narrative features that hold up a mirror of so much that is grim and depressing in our world, Varda remains that refreshing voice that rejoices in the playful, creative and compassionate qualities of humankind. There is truly no other filmmaker quite like her.   

✭✭✭✭

Faces Places is currently screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival

Richard Leathem @dickiegee