A treasure of global cinema, Agnès Varda (The Beaches of Agnes, The Gleaners and I) makes films alive with curiosity and playfulness. Now in her eighties, she is the world’s most youthful filmmaker. Her latest nonfiction film is an inspired collaboration with JR, the mysterious French street artist. Like many of Varda’s works, Faces Places is a kind of travelogue in which the wonder of each locale visited is only as potent as the populace whose existence affects it.
The modus operandi is simple: Varda and JR roam from place to place in JR’s truck, which is decorated to resemble a camera. In each place they visit, they meet people—coal miners, cheese makers, a Herculean farmer—and JR creates immense monochromatic portraits of them. Our endearing duo then affixes these portraits to various edifices. Quite literally, faces merge with places, or, to cite the film’s original French title, visage merges with village. The landscape Varda and JR traverse becomes a record of encounters. The cumulative effect is transcendent.
Among Faces Places’ most amusing refrains is Varda’s annoyance at JR’s refusal to remove his sunglasses, which she says reminds her of Jean-Luc Godard in the ’60s. Near the films’ end Varda and JR actually pay a visit to Godard. The contrast between Varda’s French New Wave cohort, who represents her tremendous six-decade legacy, and JR, who embodies her vibrant present, speaks volumes about the scope of this amazing auteur’s durability and persistence of vision.
“Faces Places is a film of sheer joy, its exuberance surpassed only by its tenderness and purity of purpose.” (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post)
“The film is an intensely personal record, yet also a universal contemplation. Faces Places leaves the viewer with a sense of the glories of images and communication—sometimes random, sometimes specific, always continual and cumulative.” (Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle)
“Sheer perfection—that’s the phrase that springs to mind when describing the humanist miracle that is Faces Places, the year’s best and most beguiling documentary.” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)