The Complete Films of Agnès Varda

Program 1: Agnès Forever


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Synopsis

A founder of the French New Wave who became an international art-house icon, Agnès Varda was a fiercely independent, restlessly curious visionary whose work was at once personal and passionately committed to the world around her. In an abundant career in which she never stopped expanding the notion of what a movie can be, Varda forged a unique cinematic vocabulary that frequently blurs the boundaries between narrative and documentary, and entwines loving portraits of her friends, her family, and her own inner world with a social consciousness that was closely attuned to the 1960s counterculture, the women’s liberation movement, the plight of the poor and socially marginalized, and the ecology of our planet. This comprehensive collection places Varda’s filmography in the context of her parallel work as a photographer and multimedia artist—all of it a testament to the radical vision, boundless imagination, and radiant spirit of a true original for whom every act of creation was a vital expression of her very being.

Picture 8/10

Similar to their giant box set for Ingmar Bergman’s films, Criterion’s The Complete Films of Agnès Varda breaks her work down into programs, presenting a different one on each disc. The first dual-layer disc in the set is entitled Agnès Forever and presents the films Varda by Agnès and Les 3 butons. Both films are given 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes and presented in the aspect ratios of 1.78:1 and 1.85:1 respectively.

Both of the films are digital, sourced from 2K masters, and I’m guessing they’re more or less presented here as is. Varda by Agnès can be described as a documentary, the filmmaker in front of an audience talking about her work, her methods, her influences, her passions… just everything, but the stage set-up has some limitations, so portions of the film are fairly static. These moments, filmed in digital, look fine, but some artifacts, particularly banding, creep in there.

I’m sure issues like that are related more to the digital source and it’s easy to overlook. The rest of the image is good, with decent detail, wonderful looking colours, and sharp blacks. Clips from films and other works are edited in as Varda brings them up. Some standard-definition digital footage is thrown in there and it looks as good as it can, which is above average standard-definition. What was impressive, though, were segments from her films, with all of the clips looking to come from the new restorations. These end up looking quite good and I can’t wait to see what everything looks like as I make my way through the set.

Les 3 Butons didn’t present any obvious artifacts in its digital photography and it’s a clean image overall. There is a flatness to the look, but the colours look nice (the magenta dress in the film pops), as do black levels.

In the end, both films probably look about as good as they can.

Audio 8/10

Varda by Agnès offers up a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack, while Les 3 butons provides a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, both in French. Les 3 Buton’s is sharp and clear, spreading the audio out decently, but I can't say it's anything special.

I was surprised by Varda by Agnès’ soundtrack, which was far livelier than I was expecting. Most of the presentation is Varda and others talking about her and her work, with clips from the films and other footage thrown in, but there are moments from the audience and the use of music that are pretty impressive, spreading the audio around the viewer. The music sounds really crisp and clean as well.

Les 3 boutons (2015): 7/10 Varda by Agnès (2019): 8/10

Extras 7/10

While some of Criterion’s previous gigantic box sets either didn’t feature any supplements (100 Years of Olympic Films) or didn’t include supplements on every disc (Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema), I’m happy to say that Criterion has loaded this set with a wealth of material, and, outside of one disc, you’ll find supplements of some sort on each disc of this set.

Les 3 Butons, an 11-minute short, is all on its own, but Varda by Agnès features a number of great features. Criterion has first recorded new interviews with Varda’s children, Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy, running 17-minutes. Recorded separately (Varda speaking in French and Demy in English), the two recall their mother and her work, with Demy recalling the move to California (for a possible project for his father) and how his mother just picked up a camera and started filming. Rosalie Varda also talks about some of her later work, and how Faces Places and Varda by Agnès came about, while Demy talks about how his California experience with his mother played in to inspiring his 2011 film Americano. The two also talk about how she got her films made, how she kept up on technology (even social media), and more. It’s a wonderful and personal look at her art and her influence.

Criterion then includes a panel from the 2019 Telluride Film Festival, conducted after the North American premiere of Varda by Agnès, moderated by Annette Insdorf and featuring festival co-founder Tom Luddy, Varda’s children Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy, and director Martin Scorsese. The 40-minute discussion is primarily taken up by Scorsese, who recounts first meeting her before telling a number of stories around their friendship, including her visiting the set of his films on many occasions. He also explains what struck him most about her work and the images she captured, which also influenced his own work in many ways. It’s a loving tribute on his part, though it’s a bit of a shame the others didn’t get to contribute much (though at least Demy and Varda showed up in the previous interview on this disc).

The rest of the features are short videos or “essays.” Agnès Varda’s Credit Sequences is an 8-minute visual essay put together by Alex Vuillaume-Tylski examines how her artistry and experimental nature  found their way into her credits, followed by a 2-minute video called Sensing Bodies, offering a split-screen montage featuring shots of hands, bodies, legs, and more, all taken from a number of her films. Though Scorsese touches on this in his interview, this feature doesn’t offer much context so it’s hard to take much of anything from it other than “those are all nicely filmed.”

The disc then closes with a trailer for Varda by Agnès, a trailer for the Janus Retrospective of Varda’s work, and then a cute 30 second video featuring Varda having a chat with Nini, Nini being her cat. Their chat is about chatting, and the cat, in a good ol’ cat fashion response, stares at her, bats a paw, and then runs off.

Not packed, but I was wholly expecting there to be very little content, so it was a wonderful surprise to see that not only does Criterion dig up material that is mostly good, they even recorded new interviews for this release.

Closing

It’s an interesting place to start the set off: her last film where she reflects on her life and work along with a couple of features that pay tribute to her legacy and impact. But it proves to be a wonderful way to start things off, maybe especially for newcomers, and so far it feels so lovingly put together that I can’t wait to get through the rest of the content of this set.

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Directed by: Agnes Varda, JR
Year: 1955-2019
Time: 2477 total min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Licensors: Succession Varda  |  Les Films du Jeudi  |  Cine-Tamaris  |  Cinémathèque Française
Release Date: August 11 2020
MSRP: $249.95
 
Blu-ray
15 Discs | BD-50
1.33:1 ratio
1.37:1 ratio
1.66:1 ratio
1.77:1 ratio
1.78:1 ratio
1.85:1 ratio
2.35:1 ratio
English 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
French 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Musical Score 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
French 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo
English 1.0 PCM Mono
French 1.0 PCM Mono
French 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 Interviews with Agnès Varda’s children, Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy,    Discussion about Varda recorded at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival for the North American premiere of Varda by Agnès, featuring Varda's children Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy, director Martin Scorsese, and Telluride Film Festival cofounder Tom Luddy, moderated by Annette Insdorf   Agnès Varda’s Credit Sequences: 2019 video essay on how Varda opens and closes her films, “cinewritten” by Alex Vuillaume-Tylski   Sensing Bodies video essay created in 2019 by French online publication Trois Couleurs   Conversation between director Agnes Varda and her cat Nini was shot in 2019   Trailer for Varda by Agnès   Janus Films Retrospective Trailer   2012 discussion between Agnes Varda and actor-director Mathieu Amalric about La Pointe Courte   2007 video interview with director Agnes Varda   Excerpts from a 1964 episode of the French television series Cinéastes de notre temps, in which Agnes Varda discusses her early career   2017 interview with author Jhumpa Lahiri on La Pointe Courte   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Du Côté de la côte   Remembrances (2005), a documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Agnes Varda and actors Corinne Marchand and Antoine Bourseiller   Excerpt from a 1993 French television program featuring Madonna and Agnes Varda talking about the film   Cléo’s Real Path Through Paris (2005), a short film retracing, on a motorcycle, Cléo’s steps through Paris   The Music of Michel Legrand: video essay made by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos for FilmStruck in 2016, explores the musical motifs in Cléo from 5 to 7   Trailer for Cléo from 5 to 7   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for L’opéra Mouffe   Agnes Varda on Les fiancés du pont Macdonald   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Les dites cariatides   Les dites cariatides bis   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais   Rue Daguerre in 2005, Agnès Varda pays visits to neighbors old and new thirty years after she made Daguerréotypes there   Bread, Painting, Accordion: short profile of Agnes Varda’s longtime bakery and accordion shop   Daguerreotypes, Photographic Objects: short video by Agnes Varda of a daguerreotype exhibit in 2005   Footage of an outdoor concert in Paris’s 14th arrondissement in 2005, shot by Agnes Varda   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Le lion volatil   Interview with Agnes Varda from 1998 about Le bonheur   The Two Women of "Le bonheur", a short piece featuring actors Claire Drouot and Marie-Françoise Boyer   Thoughts on "Le bonheur", a discussion between four scholars and intellectuals discussing the concept of happiness and its relation to the film   Two short pieces by Agnes Varda investigating people   Jean-Claude Drouot Returns (2006), a featurette in which the actor revisits the film's setting forty years later   Segment from the 1964 television program Démons et merveilles du cinéma, featuring footage of Varda shooting Le bonheur   Trailer for Le bonheur   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for Les créatures   Television program covering the production of Les créatures   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Elsa la Rose   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Uncle Yanco   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for The Black Panthers   2014 introduction by Agnes Varda for Lions Love (...and Lies)   Viva Varda!, long-lost 1970 French television interview between Agnes Varda and Lions Love (... and Lies) star Viva   2014 introduction by Agnes Varda for Mur Murs   Two Street Artists, profile of street artists Jérôme Mesnager and Miss.Tic   Trailer for Mur Murs   Nausicaa: 1971 television film by Varda that was ultimately seized and supressed without reason after completion   Women Are Naturally Creative, a 1977 documentary directed by Katja Raganelli, featuring an interview with Agnes Varda shot during the making of the film, plus on-set interviews with actors Valérie Mairesse and Thérèse Liotard   Trailer for One Sings, the Other Doesn't   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Réponse de femmes   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Plaisir d’amour en Iran   Remembrances (2003), a documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with Sandrine Bonnaire and other cast members   The Story of an Old Lady (2003), a short piece in which Agnes Varda revisits actress Martha Jarnias, who plays the old aunt in the film   Music and Dolly Shots, (2003), a conversation between Agnes Varda and composer Joanna Bruzdowicz   A 1986 radio interview with Agnes Varda and writer Nathalie Sarraute, who inspired the film   David Bordwell on the plotting in Vagabond   Trailer for Vagabond   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for 7 p., cuis., s. de b. . . . (à saisir)   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for Jane B. par Agnès V.   Interview with actor Jane Birkin about her work with director and friend Agnès Varda   Trailer for Jane B. par Agnès V.   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for Kung-Fu Master!   Interview from 1988 with actor Jane Birkin and director Agnes Varda on the twin releases of their films Jane B. par Agnès V. and Kung-Fu Master! aired on the Swiss television news program Bonsoir   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for The Young Girls Turn 25   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for The World of Jacques Demy   A Fun Moment with Michel Piccoli, 2004 interview where Agnes Varda reflects on One Hundred and One Nights and shares footage from an with an on-set interview with Piccoli   Set Visits, Director Agnes Varda narrates this behind-the-scenes footage featuring some stars that make cameo appearances in One Hundred and One Nights, including Marcello Mastroianni, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Catherine Deneuve, Robert De Niro, and Alain Delon   Trailer for One Hundred and One Nights   Hands and Objects: on Agnès Varda’s Shorts, a conversation among Anne Huet, Agnes Varda, and critic Alain Berlaga about the director's short films   Excerpts from Varda's unfinished films La melangite and Christmas Carole   1971 commercials for "Collants Minuit" and "Tupperware"   Post-Filmum to "The Gleaners and I"   The Gleaners Museum   Pre-Filmum to "The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later"   Tribute to Zgougou, tribute to Varda's cat   Chance is the Best Assistant: codirectors Agnes Varda and JR discuss the making of Faces Places   "The Beach Cabin" outtake from Faces Places   Codirectors Agnes Varda and JR discuss the music of Faces Places with composer Matthieu Chedid   Trailer for Faces Places   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Salut les cubains   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Ulysse   Une minute pour une image: a selection of photographs accompanied by commentary by intellectuals and artists - the filmmaker herself included - for French television   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Ydessa, les ours et etc   Around Trapeze Artists: 2009 featurette directed by Agnes Varda   Daguerre Beach: 2008 featurette directed by Agnes Varda capturing the creation of the beach in front of her house for The Beaches of Agnès   Scholar Kelley Conway discusses director Agnès Varda’s unique approach to self-representation in The Beaches of Agnès   Trailer for The Beaches of Agnès   Quelques veuves de Noirmoutier: adaptation by Varda of a video installation originally created to accompany L’île et elle, an exhibition she had presented at the Fondation Cartier in Paris into a documentary for ARTE in 2006   Installations: short profiles by highlighting the installation work Agnes Varda did across the world as a visual artist, starting in 2003   A lavishly illustrated 200-page book, featuring notes on the films and essays on Varda’s life and work by writers Amy Taubin, Michael Koresky, Ginette Vincendeau, So Mayer, Alexandra Hidalgo, and Rebecca Bengal, as well as a selection of Agnes Varda’s photography and images of her installation art