Tag Archives: Agnès Varda

´Defiant Muses: Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives in France in the 70s and 80s´at the Queen Sofia, Madrid.

Images from the great ‘Delphine Seyrig Defiant Muses ‘exhibition. The greatness of the exhibition is in conveying a range of feminist practices, collective and social, international, ranging from issues on abortion to sex work to trans performances of classic American plays, to the liberation of video as form, to the value even of unproduced feminist film projects (Calamity Jane). And a range of relationships between women (Duras, Ulrike Ottinger, Agnès Varda, Simone de Beauvoir and so many more whose names don´t mean as much to me. I was delighted to see Jean Genet speaking up for Angela Davis and the Black Panthers as part of the work produced by Seyrig and the feminist collectives she was a part of.

 

Here is the program: defiant muses 1

defiant 2

defiant 3

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defiant 5

defiant 6

 

Plus some more images and text I thought some of you might find interesting:

 

José Arroyo

The ending of Jacquot de Nantes

 

Screenshot 2019-05-12 at 07.57.22.pngI suppose no one can ever know what goes on within a couple. But I do hope someone writes a biography of Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda so we at least get to know a little more than we do now, which is that they met, fell in love, had a child to accompany that of Varda’s from a previous relationship, broke up, got back together in the end. We also know Demy was bisexual. To what extent is Le bonheur autobiographical, if not in plot, in feeling? We know that Demy was dying of AIDS when Varda filmed him for Jacquot de Nantes, something that Demy then wished to be kept secret. And we know that she loved him. Her camera caresses his hair, his face, his body, it pans through his skin, mottled with liver spots, and then on the off-chance you thought she didn’t love him enough, she sings him Terrain vagues by Jacques Prevért, with its beautiful connotations of land and sea, but also of incertitude, of a proximity that ebbs and flows but which nonetheless offers a love to drown oneself in:

Terrain vagues

Démons et merveilles, vents et marées,
Au loin déjà la mer s’est retirée,
Et toi comme une algue,
Doucement caressée par le vent,
Dans les sables du lit,
Tu remues en rêvant.

Démons et merveilles, vents et marées,
Au loin déjà la mer s’est retirée,
Mais dans tes yeux entr’ouverts,
Deux petites vagues sont restées.

Démons et merveilles, vents et marées,
Deux petites vagues

Deux petites larmes

pour me noyer.

 

I’ve translated loosely –I’m no poet, it can only be loosely — as follows:

Demons and wonders, winds and tides,

In the distance already the sea has withdrawn,

And you like an algae,

In a bed of sand gently caressed by the wind,

Dreamily stir,

 

Demons and wonders, winds and tides,

The sea has already withdrawn into the distance,

But two little waves remain in your half-opened eyes.

 

Demons and wonders, winds and tides,

Two little tears,

two little waves,

to drown myself in.

 

 

 

It floors me each time, making me wistful, sad — no one’s loved me like Varda loves Demy — and leaves me admiring: If no one’s loved me like Varda loves Demy, maybe one can learn to love as lovingly, fully, as openly and acceptingly as she.

José Arroyo

A brief reflection on Varda

 

Been going through Varda´s films recently, The Beaches of Agnès is the most recent, and there´s always a moment where a reflection, a memory, a kindness, makes me well up. But reflecting also that one of my younger selves, much more judgmental, would have been irritated by the playfulness, the self-conscious artyness, the constant and self-conscious invocation of high culture, one detects name-dropping enveloped in proclamations of love, possibly read her being so much in the picture as a kind of self-indulgence or narcissism, perhaps read her bricolages as a lack of professionalism. Perhaps. Some of that is still there. But I´m glad I´ve developed into being open to being moved by this work now.

José Arroyo

A note on Cléo de 5 à 7

cleo de 5

There has already been much written on Agnès Varda´s Cleo de 5 à 7, perhaps too much on the sequences featuring Michel Legrand and the silent film within a film with Jean-Luc Godard, Ana Karina, Sami Frey, Eddie Constantine and others. Upon her death earlier this year, I thought it a kind of sexism that these were the bits of her oeuvre that were most circulated, the kind of greatness-by-association that must have characterised and possibly blighted some of her life with Jacques Demy.

Mirrors, Reflections, Compositions

 

Cléo de 5 à 7 is to me as great as anything produced by the French New Wave, with that same exuberant love of and experimentation with cinema that one sees in the best of Godard, Truffaut, or in the same period but in Quebec, Claude Jutra´s À tout prendre. I was dazzled by her compositions, the use of mirrors and reflections, partly to illustrate the duality of Cléo, the pop singer who´s real name is Florence, but partly also to bring the outside into the inside in cafés and bars. She does the same when filming from outside so you see the reflection on the street whilst also seeing the place and characters behind the window.

Cinema

 

The fim begins wittily with a game of tarot cards, filmed in colour, as the main themes of the film are dramatized: she´s a successful pop singer, with a lover who´s rich and kind but whom she´s not quite in love with; she´s got health problems and will only find out if they´re fatal later in the day. She leaves the tarot session certain of her death and wonders around Paris drinking coffee, having anxiety attacks with friends, buying a new hat, commenting on how she´s still beautiful and how beauty might be health. She visits a friend who´s posing nude for an art class, they watch a silent film, she wonders around a park and meets a man who she takes to. Amidst the bustle of the city, the friendships, the art, there´s the presence of death. But of love too.

That´s the plot, structured through  several episodes timed chronologically that last the duration of the film to replicate real time: the film would have been more accurately titled Cléo de 5 á 6:30, but then it would have lost the sexual connotations of 5 à 7, sex in the afternoon, often, as is hinted here, with a married man. The allusion is further underlined with the discussion later in the film of  Cléo de Mérode, the dancer and singer who is best known for being one of the most famous courtesans of the Belle Epoque.

But that´s not the whole movie. There are also marvellous rides where personal troubles are placed in the context of the moveable feast that is the city itself, one with a female cab driver who chats about the pleasures and difficulties of being one. Paris is as much a character in the movie as anyone but Cléo, and in Cléo, women are literally in the driver´s seat. Structurally, the story is told episodically but as if in real time. It´s got a marvellous mise-en-scène, compositions that expressively optimise space; there is shopping, posing, singing, discussions about art, love and politics that seep through, are on the radio, overheard. The editing is as inventive and expressive as anything in the French New Wave. And of course there are several songs, of which the one below is a stand-out, partly because of the beauty of the song itself, how it comments on Cléo´s life, but also how the camera swirls around her until a moment of self-recognition where she sings and cries directly at us, the audience:

This is a film by a young woman in love with cinema. and about a character in love with Paris, life and love, all in the midst of destructive forces, political and physiological, that are outside her control and present her with an existential crisis. It´s a film that flows beautifully and leaves one buoyant. I could kick myself for waiting until the age of 56 to see it. I hope you´re not as dumb.

This is what Varda herself has to say about Cléo in Les plages d’Agnès:

 

Bertrand Tavernier, in his wonderful A Personal Journey Through French Cinema, was the publicist for the film, and offers this lovely reminiscence:

José Arroyo

La Pointe Courte (Agnès Varda, France, 1955)

la pointe courte

A young couple played Phillipe Noiret and Sylvia Monfort arrive from Paris to mend their relationship. He’s a native of the Pointe Courte, the place where fishermen live and work in Sète, in the South of France, where the film is set. He´s arrived first and has gone to the train station for the past five days in the hope that she´ll arrived so he can show her where he´s from.  She’s a Parisian and has come to break up with him after four years of marriage.

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La Pointe Courte is his home and he hopes that by getting to know it she´ll come to understand him better. And the film is as much about the place and its people as it is about the couple. We see they’re fishermen, at odds with the authorities about fishing in a lagoon, getting around the rules and paying the price for it when they get caught. We get to see a whole way of life, eating, working, mending, the men’s jousts and the women’s work too. Varda has an eye for the details of hanging up the washing, mending the socks.

The place is beautiful but harsh too, the work is hard, the room families live in are mean and cramped; a child dies, one sees a dead cat buffeted by the waves, near the end a child pleads with its parents to not drown all the cats and at least let one live. Varda has an eye for that which is beautiful, striking, notable. and if it´s not there for her to capture she makes it so through the ways she composes the images in the frame. One can see this film as a silent film and still enjoy it. Alain Resnais did the editing and he overlaps dialogue with images, poetic ones, that powerfully evoke place and a way of life.

The central couple are filmed as if in a Bergman film (though this is before Bergman made these types of shots famous in films like Persona), their faces forming ninety degree angles, his looking at her, she looking at the horizon, then vice-verca; everything overly ‘arty’ as they endlessly discuss their relationship, each other, the differences between how they love their love and how they love the other, insisting that it’s not the same thing.

Their love story is counterpoised with that of a young couple whose relationship is first forbidden by the girl’s father and finally permitted to be, partly because of his skill at jousting, by the girl’s cantankerous father. Phillippe Noiret is very young and in some shots almost handsome as the young native of the town who’s escaped this life he loves and moved to Paris. A film that is beautiful to see and beautiful to hear, with light regional songs edited to the gentle rhythms of a way of life. There’s a pragmatic kindness in evoking the every day and making it significant, in the making of  poetry out of poor people´s quotidian life. It´s a lovely film.

In Les plages d’Agnès (1988), Varda re-visits La pointe courte and has this to say about what inspired the film’s structure:

..and this on some visual influences:

 

In José Arroyo

A Conversation with Rosa Bosch

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I was invited to participate in a discussion on Una mujer fantástica/ A Fantastic Woman with the legendary Rosa Bosch, now also Honorary Visiting Professor at Warwick, and thought I’d grab the opportunity to lasso her from her busy schedule and into a conversation on her extraordinary career. In fact no lassoing was necessary, and she was as open and generous with her time, experience and knowledge as anyone could wish for. And great fun.

 

Born in Barcelona in 1962, part of the last generation to have experienced Franco’s dictatorship, Bosch depicts her career as peripatetic. She dropped out of studying chemistry, fell in love with an American, moved to LA around 84-85, and began working at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, where because of her language skills, her first task was looking after Agnès Varda, Yevtushenko, and Tarkovsky. When the AFI decided to send someone to Havana, the American embargo and Bosh’s speaking Spanish contributed to her being chosen as the delegate. The Havana film festival was then the focal point and agenda setter for Latin American film cultures world-wide; and as Bosch tells it, Latin American cinema and culture has been, in one way or another, at the centre of her life ever since.

 

Names like Pedro Almodóvar, Fernando Trueba, Wim Wenders, Terry Gilliam, Fernando Birri, Gabriel García Marquez (Gabo), and Julie Christie pepper the conversation. She’s got a connection to Warwick through John King and pays homage to Sheila Whitaker who brought over to London to help bring Latin American cinema to the London Film Festival.

Bosch  shares anecdotes about the screening of Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone at the Toronto Film Festival falling on 9/11; about the great Maria Luisa Bemberg taking her under her wing; about the making of The Buena Vista Social Club and about how Julie Christie sparked her re-connecting once more with The University of Warwick. The conversation ranges through various aspects of her extraordinary career – she’s been engaged with the business of culture in almost every capacity from curating to finding money for films like Amores Perros to developing campaigns so that films succeed in reaching their audience– right up to her producing the legendary Karl Lagerfeld/Chanel show in Cuba, which catwalked its way down Havana’s legendary Prado and evoked a clash of ideologies still heatedly discussed today.

The conversation can be listened to here:

Many thanks to Alison Ribeiro de Menezes and the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Warwick for arranging the event and making the interview possible.

 

José Arroyo