Agnès Varda in California
The legendary French filmmaker Agnès Varda (Cléo from 5 to 7), whose remarkable career began in the 1950s and has continued into the twenty-first century, produced some of her most provocative works while living on the West Coast of the United States. After temporarily relocating from France to California in the late sixties with her husband, Jacques Demy, so that he could make his first Hollywood film, Varda became entranced by the politics, youth culture, and sunshine of the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, and created documentary explorations and fictional narratives—sometimes within the same film. She returned a decade later, and made more fascinating portraits of outsiderness. Her five revealing, entertaining California films, encompassing shorts and features, are collected in this set, which demonstrates that Varda was as deft an artist in unfamiliar terrain as she was on her own turf.
Criterion’s 43rd Eclipse DVD set gathers together five films that Agnes Varda made while in California during two separate trips. This set gathers together the films Uncle Yanco, Black Panthers, Lions, Love (…and Lies), Mur Murs, and Documenteur. Uncle Yanco and Black Panthers share one single-layer disc, with Mur Murs and Documenteur sharing a dual-layer disc. Lions, Loves (…and Lies) is presented on its own dual-layer disc. Lions and Documenteur are both presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and have been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The other films are presented in the ratio of 1.33:1.
It’s a shame these films didn’t make it to Blu-ray because they all look quite beautiful, and on DVD they still manage to look impressive. I was most struck by Mur Murs and Documenteur, which both show a rather solid grain structure and nicely controlled compression. Sharpness and detail are strong across the board, with fine details and even textures in clothing, exterior walls, and so on coming through rather clearly. Colours vary between each film and probably depend on film stock and shooting conditions, but on the whole they look beautifully saturated, with impressive oranges and reds particularly. Black levels are okay but crushing is a bit of an issue throughout all of the films.
The restoration work across all five films is also very good and very little in the way of damage remains, just a handful of minor marks that pop up once in a blue moon. On the whole the restoration and the transfers are all quite stunning, and again it’s a shame Criterion didn’t see it as being worthwhile to release these on Blu-ray since I feel they’d all look rather stunning.
All five films present Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks. Uncle Yanco is the sole French-only film, while Black Panthers and Lions, Love (…and Lies) are in English. The last two films both present two audio tracks each, the first being their original respective bilingual English/French tracks, and then alternate English-only tracks.
Sound quality across all five films is consistent. Dialogue sounds fairly sharp and clear, and none of the tracks present distracting damage or noise. Range is pretty limited and all of them do sound a bit flat on the whole. Still, considering the age and shooting style of each film they sound better than I was probably expecting.
Other than the alternate English-only tracks for Mur Murs and Documenteur, this Eclipse set doesn’t feature any special feature of any sort other than the usual excellent set of notes found in the liners (and one insert) by Michael Koresky, going over this period of Vardas’ career. As usual they add great value but Agnes Varda did record an interview with Criterion on these films, which they then posted online. Not sure why they still can’t add material like that to their Eclipse line sets.
A fantastic set of films, each sporting a wonderful transfer that still looks strong upscaled. It comes highly recommended.