Original Name: Visages Villages
Director: Agnès Varda & JR
Runtime: 89 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5598102/
Agnès Varda: Varda is a significant figure in modern French cinema and her work is often considered feminist because of her use of female protagonists and creating a female cinematic voice . Her films, photographs, and art installations focus on documentary realism, feminist issues, and social commentary with a distinctive experimental style. In 2017, Varda received an Academy Honorary Award for her contributions to cinema, making her the first female director to receive such an award.
“But we want to go to the north, the south, and the middle somehow, because it’s another kind of documentary if you go to just one village. And we wanted to have the feeling that it is a trip. We had that magical truck and we could use it and we could propose to people to go to the truck to get their picture. They could take it home, or they could paste it with other pictures. We did all those proposals all the time. And for free and for no reason.”
In theory, a movie like this should not work. It’s literally about the duo figuring out the plot for their film as they go around places, it’s full of random moments and it seemingly lacks the central message. Yet it works. And it works magnificently on many levels. Agnes Varda, a 89-year-old living legend and the only woman director who associated with the French New Wave, teams up with JR, 34-year-old street artist who paste up pictures about people in the large public wall. On one level, Faces Places is about the creativity itself. Both JR and Varda are established artists in their own medium with a clear set of artistic vision, but at heart they’re both fascinated about the idea of experimenting something new, of creating fresh ideas and letting the ideas run wild. That willing to be inspired by the people and their stories, and that freedom to create whatever crossed their minds are the creative collaboration force behind their film project.
On second level, Faces Places is also about the duo’s fascinated about the lives of people in the rural area across France. Each people they meet has their own stories, their own history. Or in Varda’s own words: “To meet new faces so I don’t fall down the holes in my memory.” From a woman in an abandoned mine town who refuses to leave her home, to the late photographer who was once photographed by Varda, to the often -unmentioned wives who stand beside (not behind) their husband dockers, to the farmers and to even Goddard himself. Each time the duo learn more about their lives, we feel like we understand them a bit better, and that curiosity about people in general, and the working class in specific, make Faces Places an universal appeal. It adds up that JR’s photographic art is mainly about people, about their faces right in their home. JR and Varda strengthen each other style greatly.
On the most surface level, Faces Places is a breezy road trip film about a mismatched duo who carry a surprisingly strong chemistry (for a documentary) and overall a pleasure to watch. It’s clear that they respect each other and enjoy the company of the other. Most often the times they comment on each other’s quirk (like how JR always wears his sunglasses on), but this film also serves as a road back to memory and life reflection to Varda. Sometimes, she would visit the old place, meet up with old friend (Goddard) and reflect on how the time has changed. “Every person I speak feel like the last”. Varda mentions at one point, but her energy sparks brightly. They always joke about her bad eyesight, which in turns make it a visually payoff that both intimate and sweet. With just a mere 90 minutes, Faces Places address the art itself, the love for people as Varda’s trademark, and a warm emotional reflection on Varda, who is in her 90 but we can still a lively fire within her and she still has a lot to give. It often feels like JR and Varda going places, meeting random people and leaving their marks behind for the mass to see without any tangible gain. In a way, that’s what art should be.