The Complete Films of Agnès Varda

Program 6: In California


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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

Disc six of Criterion’s box set The Complete Films of Agnès Varda presents the program “In California,” which includes the films Uncle Yanco, Black Panthers, Lions Love (…and Lies), Mur Murs, and Documenteur, all presented with 1080p/24hz encodes. Uncle Yanco, Black Pantherss, and Mur Murs are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 while the other two are presented in the ratio of 1.66:1.

Documenteur was restored in 2K in 2011 from the 16mm original camera negative. The other films were all restored in 2013, with Uncle Yanco and Mur Murs restored in 2K (from the 35mm original camera negative and 16mm original camera negative respectively) and Lions Love in 4K (from the 35mm original camera negative). Black Panthers’ restoration info is a bit confusing: the French text states it’s a 4K restoration while the English text states it’s a 2K restoration; both say the restoration was scanned from the 16mm original negative. I wouldn’t doubt it’s 4K, though it would seem odd to go all out on a 16mm film when most of the restorations in the set, even from 35mm sources, have all been performed in 2K.

At any rate, whatever the case may be, these are the same restorations Criterion used when they previously released the films on DVD as part of their Eclipse line. Entitled Agnès Varda in California, the set presented the films across 3 DVDs. All five films are now presented on one Blu-ray disc. Slamming 5-hours’ worth of material onto one disc isn’t ideal, and because they went that route some minor problems come up because of it. Overall, the presentations are generally fine, still offering an improvement over the DVD. Detail is sharp, the images are stable, and the restorations have been incredibly thorough, with only a few blemishes appearing throughout all five films. Nothing severe ever stands out, though this also held true for the DVD versions.

Some other things do stand out, though. When going through the DVDs initially I was admittedly unsure of the colours in a few cases, though now looking again I think I was thrown off because the colours for all of the films have been pushed towards yellow or teal. Lions Love, which ends up probably being the best looking presentation in the end, still manages to be impacted the most here, as it has the most jaundiced look and has some issues with the black levels. Uncle Yanco, one of the more colourful films in this collection, is also impacted a bit as blues and violets are held back a bit. Documenteur can look a bit washed, and leans cooler, but it otherwise isn't too bad.

Grain is rendered a bit better across all of the films in comparison to the DVD presentations, but it’s not as clean as I would have hoped. Grain can be a bit noisy, and I felt Documenteur fell the shortest in this area: it's the noiser of the five films.

Technically the presentations are all better than what is found on the DVDs that Criterion released, but I was actually far more impressed with what the DVDs were able to deliver because those presentations were not held back at all by the limitations of standard-definition; even when upscaled they still look good for what they are. Any limitations or draw backs end up just being more obvious because of the high-def upgrade, and probably because everything has been slammed onto one disc.

Uncle Yanco (1968): 8/10 Black Panthers (1970): 8/10 Lions Love (. . . and Lies) (1969): 8/10 Mur Murs (1981): 8/10 Documenteur (1981): 7/10

Audio 6/10

There are a few options with the films in this “program.” Both Black Panthers and Lions Love only present English language tracks presented in lossless PCM 1.0. The other films have multiple tracks: Uncle Yanco features a French PCM 1.0 monaural track along with an English language Dolby Digital monaural track, while the other two films present “bilingual” audio tracks (a mix of English and French) in lossless PCM mono and then an optional all-English track, presented in Dolby Digital.

All of the films and all of the options are of about the same quality: dialogue is sharp and clear, music sounds good, and the presentations are clean, but they’re limited in range and fidelity. There can be a rougher edge to audio depending on how they were filmed (the less planned, documentary going-with-the-moment shooting style of Black Panthers for example) but nothing sticks out, whether good or bad.

Extras 3/10

Criterion’s previous Eclipse release of course featured no special features at all, but that’s corrected a little bit with this release. Documenteur, disappointingly, doesn’t come with any features, but the rest of the films at the very least have introductions by Varda recorded in 2007 (Uncle Yanco and Black Panthers) and 2014 (Lions Love and Mur Murs). The intros don’t offer much sadly, running between 30-seconds and 2-minutes each and only explaining the background for each film (for Mur Murs she only explains how the last shot leads into Documenteur).

Mur Murs also comes with a 5-minute program called Two Street Artists, which follows two of the graffiti artists Jérôme Mesnager and Miss Tic, who explain their work and how it’s done (Miss Tic gets more coverage). But Lions Love gets the more intriguing addition: the 9-minute Viva Varda!, which features an interview (sort of) between Varda and the film’s star Viva. Viva might be dis-interested in this interview (she gets up at one point and just walks off) and when the two do talk about the film she’s not entirely… well… there. Varda also tells her she’s misinterpreting the film. Varda seems to be both bemused and amused by the whole thing at the very least. Sadly it’s more for promotion purposes for French television by the looks of it, with Viva talking in French, though lacking an accent, and has more clips from the film than much else. Still, I thought it was great.

Sadly there’s nothing else, and it might have been interesting to get more about Mur Murs and Documenteur. But at least Criterion dug up a couple of good items.

Closing

Cramming everything onto one disc doesn’t help things.

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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