The Complete Films of Agnès Varda

Program 4: Rue Daguerre


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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

The fourth disc in Criterion’s  The Complete Films of Agnès Varda box set presents the program “Rue Daguerre,” featuring the films Daguerréotypes and Le lion volatile on a dual-layer disc. Daguerréotypes’—previously released on DVD by Cinema Guild in 2011—presentation comes from a new 2K restoration performed in 2014 and scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. Daguerréotypes is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 while Le lion volatile is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

The colour grading is somewhat questionable but outside of that Daguerréotypes looks impressive. I was stunned at just how much of an improvement this high-def presentation offers over the old DVD, especially in terms of detail. I didn’t think detail was all that bad on that DVD to begin with, yet this presentation now shows there was obviously a lot of room for improvement. The opening credits and opening shots of the film showed a far sharper image, but it was the first shot in the bakery with the baker’s wife standing at the front that really spell out the improvement: the intricate details and patterns on her purple sweater are far clearer here than they were on the DVD; they don’t even register on there. You can also make out the individual strands of yarn and the fuzz on said yarn. The details of the products in various shops, the scattered bits of sinew and meat in the butcher shop, even the hairs on the close-up of the magicians arm (as he makes it a appear he’s putting a knife through it) all stick out out now. The image is razor sharp throughout its entirety and it really looks incredible.

The image is also cleaner than what was on the Cinema Guild DVD, despite a few tiny marks that remain, and the picture is also far more stable, no wobble or jumps presents. The digital presentation is also clean, the film having a lot of room to breathe on the disc with a higher bitrate because of it. Grain is rendered incredibly well and this holds true even when smoke or fog enters the picture (usually around the magician that pops up outdoors). It really looks like a film in the end.

The only aspect I do question is colour grading, which leans a bit greeny/tealy. It’s not too far removed from what was on the old DVD, though that one  leaned a gentler yellow. I will say that the colours probably do look better in this presentation, but I still can’t shake the feeling the knob has been pushed a little too much in the wrong direction.

The restoration notes for Le lion volatile say its presentation comes from a 2K restoration of a 35mm negative, and while that may be the case it’s clear as day this is actually an upscale of a standard-definition master. The first minute of this 12-minute film appears to have been done with a digital camera but it’s obvious the rest of it was shot on film, more than likely 35mm as the notes say. While colours are nice (not leaning too heavy on yellow oddly enough), and detail isn’t too bad, it’s still a noisy presentation, featuring some notable jaggies (though mild ones) and obvious ringing and halos. In the end it looks like an above-average DVD presentation.

I suspect I’ll be seeing more of that with the short films as I go through the set, which is disappointing, but getting surprises like the one I got with Daguerréotypes make up for it a little bit.

Daguerréotypes (1975): 8/10 Le lion volatil (2003): 6/10

Audio 7/10

Daguerréotypes comes with a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural presentation, while Le lion volatile featuring a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack. Volatile’s soundtrack fills things out nicely and sounds both clear and sharp. Daguerréotypes managed to be a pleasant surprise in this department as well. Though moments that I would expect to be a little louder (like parts of the magician’s show) come off flat, the rest of it does feature decent fidelity and range. No severe instances of damage, just a bit of a background noise.

Daguerréotypes (1975): 6/10 Le lion volatil (2003): 7/10

Extras 6/10

Le lion volatile comes with a short introduction by Varda, recorded in 2007, where she explains how the project came to be and was still able to do it despite a “traitor” producer who pulled out.

For Daguerréotypes Criterion has managed to license all of the material that appeared on the Cinema Guild DVD, which I believe was in turn originally produced for a 2005 French DVD. This material is made up of footage Varda shot in 2005 and it starts with Rue Daguerre in 2005, which is a 21-minute video with Varda revisiting the locations we got to see in the film. Only the grocer remains as it was (and it’s now run by Mohamad, who was just an employee there when Varda shot the film 30-years earlier) while the rest have been bought by others, completely changed, or have been replaced by a business like a café or gallery. She shares a few more stories here, like how she had to use one of the shop’s phones for business since she couldn’t get a line in her apartment, and she catches up with Isabelle, who we saw practicing her skating in the original film. Varda also gets an audio interview with her director of photography for the film, Nurith Aviv. The best part, though, is when Varda digs up a letter that she found while looking for material for the DVD, which was less than favourable, and she goes through it with the new owner of the hair salon. It’s very short but an incredibly charming little addition that I’m glad Varda felt compelled to put together.

Some more of that material she shot in 2005 shows up in a dedicated feature called Bread, Painting, Accordion, which focuses on the bakery and what happened to it after it was sold off in 1989 (the new owner has three other bakeries around Paris). It runs 8-minutes. Following that is a 6-minute video around an exhibit for Daguerreotypes, which shows some of the actual objects and gets interviews from the two in charge of the exhibit. The supplements then close with 3-minutes’ worth of footage from a music festival that was going on at the time Varda was putting all of this together, in Paris’ 14th arrondissement.

The Cinema Guild DVD also had an insert that featured an interview with Varda on the film, and that's missing here. That DVD also featured the short film T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais, though that film was featured on the previous disc in this set. Ultimately what we get isn't a lot, and I do wish Criterion packed in some more material of their own, but I enjoyed the material on the Cinema Guild DVD and still find it worthwhile here.

Closing

I’m let down by the idea that as I go through the set I’m going to be seeing plenty more upscales of standard-def masters for the short films (like with Le lion volatile) but if I keep getting nice little surprises like Daguerréotypes I’ll be happy.

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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