The Complete Films of Agnès Varda

Program 5: Married Life


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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 fifth dual-layer disc in Criterion’s The Complete Films of Agnès Varda focuses on “Married Life,” presenting three films that (more or less) tackle the subject: Le bonheur, Les créatures and Elsa la rose. The films are presented in their respective aspect ratios of 1.66:1, 2.35:1, and 1.37:1 and all three presentations come from 2K restorations.

The digital presentations for all three are solid enough; it ends up coming down to source materials in the case of each film, and the conditions of said materials differ between each of them. Le bonheur offers the best looking image of the three by a wide margin, and it’s the only one to use the 35mm original camera negative. It’s sharp and crisp, renders grain the best, and looks very much like a projected film. Criterion had previously released the film on DVD (part of their 4 by Agnès Varda box set) and that presentation still looks pretty damn good to this day, but the Blu-ray does better in just about every area, even in terms of clean-up, where damage is now next to non-existent. The only issues standing out are some fading colours about an hour-and-eight-minutes in and a hair that pops up.

I said it improved things in just about every area in the last paragraph, but it’s worse in one area: the colours, similar to a lot of the new restorations of colour films in this set so far, lean a very heavy yellow, plastering a green-ish tint over a lot of the film. It’s a gorgeous looking film, with wonderful pops of colours (even in the fades) but in comparison to the DVD it looks just so sickly here because of that tint. It’s possible this is how it’s supposed to look, but the colours play such an important part in the film and they end up looking uglier here. Though the DVD suggests a warmer colour scheme as well, there were actual blues in that presentation, and all of those blues are cyan here. It’s not the worst offender by far in this set, and again maybe it’s supposed to look this way and the DVD is wrong, but it’s still hard to completely buy the jaundiced look.

The other films are black-and-white… well, mostly, as Les créatures has some colour tints and a handful of colour shots. The two films vary significantly in quality, though. The short film Elsa la rose, comes from a 16mm duplicate negative and it shows some minor wear-and-tear. There are scratches along the sides of the frames at times along with a few other blemishes, but overall I was rather stunned with how clean it still was . The presentation is also pretty strong, with a decent grainy look that aids a sharp looking image, with just a handful of shots looking soft.

Les créatures ends up being a bit of a mess, despite it being one of the newest restorations (completed just this year!) Unfortunately, this seems to come down to the source print used. I am not at all familiar with this film, and looking it up before watching it I could see it was probably her most obscure film, and it’s easy to see why now. Unfortunately, it appears that since the film fell so far into obscurity, decent source materials no longer exist for it and a theatrical print had to be used for the restoration. And oh boy, does it show. The image has a very dupey look to it, and any optical effect shots in it make it look significantly worse. It’s fuzzy, rarely sharp, blown out, and just generally muddled. Contrast is severely out of whack, with blacks that eat up everything and whites that can be so blown out they bleed everywhere. To be fair, the film is heavily stylized, with colour tinted scenes thrown in, so it’s possible the film is supposed to look this way, but all of the issues look to be more from a rough print.

There is still noticeable damage, though it could be worse, limited mostly to mild pulsing, some scratches and minor marks. The encode at least doesn’t make more of a mess of it, not adding any digital anomalies, but it’s still a very flat looking image with weak grain rendering. Still, I think this comes down to the source. The colour inserts, which consist primarily of tinted scenes (and a couple of quick full colour shots) look fine, and oddly enough, don’t appear to have been tinted yellow, maybe the presentation’s one saving grace.

Le Bonheur (1965): 8/10 Les créatures (1966): 5/10 Elsa la Rose (1966): 7/10

Audio 6/10

All three films present French monaural soundtracks, Elsa la rose in Dolby Digital 1.0 and the two features in lossless PCM 1.0. Le bonheur comes out sounding the best thanks primarily to its Mozart score, but outside of that it’s pretty flat. Les créatures is also flat, and probably filtered (although it could also be a less-than-optimal source), while Elsa la rose is merely okay.

Extras 6/10

Most of the supplements are devoted to Le bonheur, porting everything over from the previous DVD edition, outside of the short film Du côté de la côte, which can be found on the second disc of this set. The features are fine (I’m still a bit let down by the features for Le bonheur), but these features end up highlighting one of the more frustrating aspects of this set, and similar sets from Criterion: it feels like they’re just pushing it out and not giving every film the focus it needs or deserves.

Starting things off with Le bonheur is a 3-minute interview from 1998 featuring Varda, who explains the background of the film before talking about the restoration that would have been done at the time, mentioning the original negatives had lost colour, so a new one had to be made (I’m not sure what would have gone into the restoration that appears on this disc). This is followed by The Two Women of “Le bonheur,” which features an interview between the director’s daughter, Rosalie Varda, and the two actors that played the lover interests in the film, Claire Drouot and Marie-France Boyer. Sadly it’s only a 6-minute discussion focusing on the characters and then the controversy that arose after the film’s release.

Thoughts on “Le bonheur” is a 15-minute feature gathering together four people from various professions to talk about the film: writer Michèle Manceaux, producer and distributor Gérard Vaugeois, critic Frédéric Bonnaud, and Fadela Amara, president of the organization “Ni putes ni soumises.” The conversation is, well, okay. If anything it shows the generational gap on how one sees the film, or at least how one sees the film depending on when they were first introduced to it. One found it revolutionary and shocking, while someone else calls it “kitsch” because it’s obvious something bad is going to happen. That leads to a conversation on its use of music, wipes, and aesthetic, but I can’t say anything here was all that eye-opening.

Following that are two new programs created by Varda exploring what happiness is (the film’s title, Le bonheur translates to “happiness”). The first is a 6-minute video called Happiness? The People of Fontenay Respond, and features Varda asking random people on the street what the term means to them, and the answers are probably as wide as you expect, everything from being in love to money. Bonheur: Proper Noun or Concept runs over a minute and feature a couple of people with the last name of Bonheur and various quotes about happiness.

This is all then followed by a 10-minute discussion with actor Jean-Claude Drouot, who revisits locations from the film, retracing some of the steps of his super-happy character, while sharing his thoughts and memories on its filming and meeting a number of people on the street who also gladly talk about seeing the film or recalling when it was filmed. There is the an excerpt from a 1964 episode of Démons et merveilles du cinema, showing Varda directing the crew and actors, with text quotes from Varda. Her husband, Jacques Demy, also shows up. A trailer closes the supplements.

The other two films get screwed out of material. Varda had recorded introductions for the films, the one for Elsa la rose in 2007 (where she explains how it started as a project Demy and her were to work on) and the one for Les creatures in 2012 (explaining she thinks the film failed because it wasn’t vicious enough). Both are around 2-minutes.

Les creatures does come with one more feature, though: Varda on Set, a 14-minute excerpt from a 1965 French television program. Here we get to see Varda filming some shots she needed but didn’t get, and then the rest of the feature is about the music in the film. This aspect of the film is a rather fascinating one, as composer Pierre Barbaud talks about how the score was created: it appears a mathematical approach was taken to the music and the score was programmed, and since this was 1965 that means it was programmed by punch card, fed into a computer, and then the music sheets (a form of them anyways) were spit out from that. Apparently it took him a year to write all this.

It’s actually this feature, and the film Les créatures itself, that highlights the one frustrating aspect of this set: while it’s good Criterion is putting a set like this together, it sometimes feels like the features are being tacked on just because they randomly came across them (or were created by them or other labels), and certain films are not receiving the focus they really do deserve. All of that stuff about the programmed score is fascinating, and though that archival footage does a decent job covering it, something new on Barbaud and the fact he wrote a score using the programming language ALGOL (which actually paved the way for a number of modern programming languages) would have been pretty great. Also, the film itself is so bizarre I find it just insane that no one thought it would be great to get someone to talk about it a bit more in-depth. I’m not sure what to make of it and maybe it’s a misfire but it's an interesting one, and one that deserves more analysis.

Closing

Presentations vary again, with Le bonheur suffering from that yellow tint and Les créatures sourced from a rough print. But even more frustrating is the fact one of the more perplexing and crazy films in the set gets ignored feature-wise.

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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