In 1975, caring for her infant son and unable to spend much time away from home, Agnès Varda turned her camera on her neighbours on her street, Rue Daguerre in Paris. In Daguerréotypes – the title a pun on the photographic process for whose inventor the road is named – she both observes them at work, running their shops and providing their services, and asks them questions about their lives, discovering where they’re originally from (most are not Paris natives) and how they met their husbands and wives. It’s a gentle, relaxed form of portraiture, one that combines imagery of the practicalities of daily work with the subjects’ descriptions of dreams and histories – although the use of a travelling magician’s show is arguably a little too precious. We discuss the different ways in which we respond to their stories, José commenting on Varda’s clear affection for the subjects, Mike arguing that there’s a tragic dimension that overhangs the film, with talk of dreams and escape.
Daguerréotypes is a sensitive portrait of a local community and a time capsule of an era that is now half a century old, and worth watching.
In the light of recent events in Paris and Beirut, I thought I’d make a video of some footage I took of the demonstrations in Bucharest last weekend. It’s not equivalent to them and I don’t want to reduce our visit to Bucharest into a kind of Social Disintegration Tourism. Bucharest will be remembered by Nicky Smith and myself for the kindness and generosity of its citizens, for the ballet, the food, the antiques; for seeing how beautiful the nearby Carpathians are; and, most lastingly, for being introduced to the work of the great Geta Brātescu by new friends. But 51 people lost there lives there; and there were also nightly demonstrations against what seemed senseless loss, in this case sparked by corruption; and somehow the seeming instability — not at all evident when walking through the city in daytime — the expression of dissatisfaction, of protest against a larger injustice is both linked to and distinct from recent events. In Bucharest, there was no fear; one could walk down the streets safely and find a place to read or a place to dance. But it does demonstrate that the sense of dissatisfaction and upheaval is one shared across Europe and the Middle-East.