Scen.: Agnès Varda, JR. F.: Romain Le Bonniec, Claire Duguet, Nicolas Guicheteau, Valentin Vignet. M.: Maxime Pozzi-Garcia. Mus.: Matthieu Chedid. Ciné-Tamaris, JRSA, Rouge International, Arte France Cinéma, Arches Films. DCP. D.: 89’. Col.
She’s eighty-eight, and makes films like she’s twenty-eight. Her movies are the opposite of old wo(man’s) movies. They’re a tonic – just watching them makes you feel younger. Her new one, Visages Villages, is another roving personalized documentary made in the cinematic thrift-shop spirit of The Gleaners and I (2000) and The Beaches of Agnès (2008). Agnès Varda, in the glory of her golden years, has become a humanist magician.
She teams up with the renegade French graffiti-artist-turned-outsize-street-photographer known as JR, who could be characterized as a rough Gallic equivalent to Banksy. He and Varda met in 2015 and quickly recognized each other as kindred spirits, despite their rather dramatic differences: He’s a prankish and supremely laid-back 33-year-old millennial hipster who never takes off his pork-pie hat and sunglasses, and she’s a New Wave legend in two-toned hair whose face still expresses the beautiful gravity that always defined her. Yet both are outsider artists, committed to visualizing life by making up their own rules. “Chance has always been my best assistant,” says Varda, and she’s not kidding. In this movie, she leaves nearly everything to chance.
Varda and JR, who share directing credit, begin to travel around, with a single liberating agenda: in each place they visit, they’ll meet the people there, and JR will produce his epic-size black-and-white portraits of them, which they will then plaster on houses, barns, storefronts: any available surface. In doing so, they will render the people large. Larger than life? No. As large as life.
[…] They also talk to, and photograph, factory workers, cheese makers, truck drivers. It’s a sketchbook of working-class rural French life, and the images that emerge from it are playful and spooky and beautiful and moving: Andy Warhol meets Walker Evans. […]
Visages Villages makes a powerful statement about the kind of society we’re becoming, in which the one percent don’t just own too much of everything; they get all the attention too. Our addiction to wealth and celebrity has begun to suck the air out of the appreciation for ordinary life, and this film offers a sublime rebuke to that.
Owen Gleiberman, “Variety”, 23 May 2017