The Complete Films of Agnès Varda

Program 3: Around Paris


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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 7/10

Disc three (programmed as “Around Paris”) in Criterion’s new box set, The Complete Films of Agnès Varda, presents Cléo from 5 to 7 along with four short films: Les fiancés du pont Macdonald, L’opéra Mouffe, Les dites cariatides, and T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais. Cléo and escaliers are both presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The other films are presented in a ratio of about 1.37:1. All share the same dual-layer disc and all have been encoded at 1080p/24hz.

Cléo receives the much needed upgrade it deserves over the previous DVD editions, coming from a new 2K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. The last one (released in 2008 exclusively in Criterion’s 4 by Agnès DVD box set) was itself a solid upgrade over Criterion’s original barebones DVD edition (which wasn’t even anamorphically enhanced!) but it still had some issues involving damage, pulsing and such (but it was at least anamorphically enhanced!) This presentation remedies all of that, delivering a far cleaner and more stable picture, with better contrast (the previous DVDs were a bit dark) and detail. The image here is sharper, rendering grain in a cleaner manner, which in turn delivers excellent textures, coming off far more film-like look in comparison to the DVD. The digital presentation falters a little bit, though: I noticed some shimmering in a cross-hatching pattern and a car grill, but otherwise there was nothing of note.

L’opéra Mouffe (a 2K restoration from a 35mm internegative) also looks quite wonderful, offering an upgrade over what appeared on that previous DVD edition of Cléo (it was an extra on that disc). There are a handful of scenes littered with scratches and some minor marks here and there, but outside of that the picture looks shockingly clean. The film is very grainy but the grain is rendered cleanly, leading to a filmic look, and the image can look incredibly crisp at times, particularly on the various close-ups of faces. So far this is one of the more pleasant surprises in the set.

Les dites cariatides (2K restoration from the 16mm original camera negative) is sort of the lone colour film on this disc (I won’t really count T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais), and in terms of general restoration, print condition, and encode, it looks spectacular. It’s very grainy but the grain has been rendered so cleanly, leading to a level of detail is quite staggering: every little nuance, every aged blemish and crack on the architecture throughout the film, all of it pops off the screen. It genuninely looks like a projected film.

Unfortunately, like the colour films on the previous disc (and throughout this set I’ve sadly previewed), that awful yellow tint has been slapped on this film and everything is bathed in yellow. Again, I don’t know how this is supposed to look, maybe this accurate, but it really looks terrible, just awful. Everything is yellow and there’s no escape from it. Reds manage to look good (which isn’t a surprise) but man, would a real blue have ever been nice. I mean, there's barely even a cyan in this. This tinting also negatively impacts the blacks, crushing out detail. If I’m unsure on something I usually don’t let it negatively impact a grade, but screw it, it looks absolutely terrible and it's just ridiculous. The grade it does receive has more to do with how strong every other aspect of the presentation is.

And then we come to the last two films on this disc: Les fiancés du pont Macdonald and T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais. Both of these are odd films as fiancés was filmed to be a part of Cléo from 5 to 7 (as a sort of a nice entertaining break for the audience, at least according to Varda in the included introduction for the film), while escaliers was made as a tribute for the Cinématheque, so it’s not surprising if these ones didn’t receive the same love as the other films in the set. The notes on the restorations found in the booklet, though, do state both were restored in 2K from the 35mm original camera negatives. I’m calling bull on T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais: it’s definitely a standard-definition master and is the exact same one that can be found on Cinema Guild’s DVD for Varda’s Daguerréotypes. To be fair, the film is made up of clips from other films with some new footage around where the Cinématheque was being held, but it’s jagged and noisy, never looking like a film. What’s amusing, though, is that the colours look okay, not being tinted with that ghastly yellow.

(Edit: I forgot to mention that the opening colour sequence for Cléo from 5 to 7 delivers more natural looking colours, which is different from the DVD re-issue, which had tinted the colours a heavy yellow. The inconsistency, so far, can be a bit maddening.)

I also question Les fiancés du pont Macdonald’s restoration. I’m not entirely sure I’ll confess, but this almost looks like an upscale as well. The film is obviously going for a silent film vibe, so the stuttering and imperfections in the print (which are admittedly not as frequent as they are in the presentations for the film found on Criterion’s previous editions for Cléo from 5 to 7 and Band of Outsiders) are probably part of the design, but the image does have a more digital look in comparison to the other films, lacking organic, film-like texture I love seeing. The presentation for this film as it is presented in Cléo from 5 to 7 on this disc looks quite a ways better. Again, I’m not entirely sure, but if it really is a 2K restoration then it’s not a particularly good one.

In all, this disc proves to be a mixed bag. Cléo from 5 to 7 and L’opéra Mouffe look great, but the other films are hampered by one thing or another.

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962): 8/10 Les fiancés du pont Macdonald (1961): 6/10 L’opéra Mouffe (1958): 8/10 Les dites cariatides (1984): 7/10 T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais (1986): 4/10

Audio 6/10

All of the films receive single-channel presentations, Cléo from 5 to 7 presented in lossless PCM and the others in Dolby Digital. Cléo from 5 to 7 is the best sounding one, delivering a bit more heft and range, especially in Michel Legrand’s music. The others are what they are: they’re clear but lack range, with L’opéra Mouffe probably more hampered by age.

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962): 7/10 Les fiancés du pont Macdonald (1961): 6/10 L’opéra Mouffe (1958): 6/10 Les dites cariatides (1984): 6/10 T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais (1986): 6/10

Extras 7/10

This disc carries over most of the supplements found on the previous DVD for Cléo from 5 to 7. Things start off with Remembrances, a 36-minute documentary from 2005 on the making of the film, reuniting many of the surviving members of the cast (some of whom haven’t seen each other since making the film), with Varda basically hosting. The documentary is a mix of people recalling the experience, comparing locations used in the film to what they are today, and Varda explaining a number of her choices. Interestingly, Varda also points out she made a slight edit to the film for the French 2005 DVD (which this documentary was made for and picked up by Criterion for their own edition), and I can confirm that is the edit on this disc. It consists of two quick trims totaling one-and-a-half seconds.

Following that is a 2-and-half-minute clip from a 1993 French television program where Varda and singer Madonna, the singer having met Varda before to discuss the idea of remaking Cléo from 5 to 7. It’s an interesting little inclusion, though consists primarily of Varda recounting their meeting.

Another interesting inclusion is Cléo’s Real Path Through Paris, created in 2005 by Pierre-William Poster. The video presents Poster retracing Cléo’s journey in the film, though this time on motorbike. The video is presented more or less straight through from beginning to end, but it edits in stills from the film when certain locations are reached. There is also a map overlay ala Mario Kart (or any racing game) showing where the bike is located. It’s probably not a necessary feature but it was interesting to see the area that Cléo covered in her short time, also suggesting that it could have all been covered in the timeframe of the film.

“New” to this edition is a 2016 video essay created by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos for FilmStruck, examining the use of Michel Legrand’s music in the film in telling the story and showing the changes of the character, managing to share some decent insights around the structure of the film and its character. The film’s supplements then close with its theatrical trailer.

Not carried over from the previous DVD is an image gallery around paintings by Hans Baldung Grien, whose work was an influence on the film and, as Varda points out in Remembrances, showed up in backgrounds in the film. The short films included on that disc, Les fiancés du pont Macdonald and L’opéra Mouffe, are, of course, two of the other films on this disc.

Criterion then includes a handful of features with the other films, though they’re primarily introductions by Varda, recorded in 2005 or 2007 and running between 25-seconds and 3-minutes each. In each she recounts how the film came to be or what inspired her to make them. For Les fiancés du pont Macdonald she also talks about Godard’s trademark sunglasses (and how she couldn’t stand them).  Les dites cariatides also comes with a “sequel” of sorts, Les dites cariatides bis, a 2-minute film from 2005 which Varda made to cover some of the locations she "missed" for the 1984 film.

And that wraps it up. A bit more satisfying than the last disc, but it still feels as though there should be more material around Cléo from 5 to 7.

Closing

Cléo from 5 to 7 and L’opéra Mouffe both look great, but the others are held back by certain issues, whether it be the fact they’re just standard-definition upscales (which is definitely the case with T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais) or yellow’d beyond belief (Les dites cariatides).

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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