Varda par Agnès (Varda by Agnès)

Poster for Varda par Agnès (Varda by Agnès)

The last film from the late French New Wave filmmaker Agnès Varda (Faces Places, The Gleaners and I, The Beaches of Agnès) traces her legendary career and life with characteristic humour and vibrant energy, presenting a portrait of an artist who lived through her films and revealed the extraordinary in the ordinary.

“There are three words that are important to me: inspiration, creation and sharing.” So begins the late Agnès Varda in what would be the final film in her oeuvre of over 50 documentaries, fictions, and shorts, made over the course of 64 years. Varda by Agnès—a title that riffs on her 1988 cine-portrait of Jane Birkin, Jane B. par Agnès V.—forms its core out of lectures the iconic French New Wave director gave in her later years. But, in pure Varda fashion, the film is punctuated by humour as she dives into unexpected realms, tracing her career and life, and the ways they intertwined.

Though 90 at the time of filming, Varda still emanates her characteristic vibrant energy. She offers a wide-ranging journey through her world: her filming process, her feminism, her fine-art photography and her long-time relationship with director Jacques Demy. There are signature flourishes of animation and formal detours into the dreams that form the integral basis of her reality.

Varda died only a month after Varda by Agnès premiered at Berlin this year, and with this in mind, it is hard not to see it as a eulogy. Yet, like all of Varda’s work, it brims with life. And its takeaway is not a past-tense legacy but a sense of how Varda lived through her films, of what she brought to the art form, and—the greatest gift—of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. “Nothing is banal if you film people with empathy and love,” Varda once said. This is the inspiration she has left us with.

“Rendering the passage of time as a painful yet serene experience, Varda by Agnès comprehends what it means to be a human with a natural flair for creative output.” (Alasdair Bayman, CineVue)

“Like much of her digital work in the twentieth century, Varda’s approach here is a kind of expansive introspection; it’s a film which looks both inwards and outwards at the same time. And like Varda herself, it pulls off the combination of a trundling, amiable pace with a biting intellectual acuity.” (Wendy Ide, Screen International)

“Two hours in this director’s company is a pleasure.” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)