Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: a double that will bring you totally up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 (1962) and THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS (2008)
After she made 1955’s La Pointe-Courte, Agnès Varda spent much of the remaining decade making short films until her second – and perhaps her best-known –feature film: Cleo From 5 To 7. This is a real-time (or close-to-real-time) story that follows a successful singer as she waits for some medical results. Okay, so our description makes it sound dull as dishwater, but it’s the exact opposite: absolutely stunning and funny and captivating. Cleo From 5 to 7 is truly inventive, and shows that Varda was doing things with camera movement and editing and narrative that was years ahead of her contemporaries. It’s only 90 minutes, and you won’t want it to end. So once you’ve watched that, throw on her 2008 documentary The Beaches of Agnès, which, as the title suggests, is all about herself and her work. It’s almost a cheat sheet itself: Varda explores her own memories and films, narrating her life in a way that only the charismatic and entertaining Varda could pull off. For someone who has been working constantly for over half a century, and switching between fiction and documentary, these are the two amazing films that make you an Agnès Varda expert in one easy (and damn entertaining) sitting.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen Cleo From 5 to 7, seek out Le Bonheur (1965). This gorgeous film follows a young French family, with Varda eliciting a huge amount of naturalism from the very young children by casting a real life family. If you can’t get or have already seen The Beaches of Agnès, you should seek out The Gleaners & I (2000), the award-winning documentary in which Agnès explores the world of gleaners: the poor French citizens who search reaped fields for the occasional missed potato or turnip. Again, it’s a hundred times better than it sounds. Our paltry descriptions will never match the heights of Varda’s films.
The Hidden Gem: Want to seek out a lesser-known film from off the beaten track? Right in the centre of Varda’s incredible career is the little-known but hilariously-titled Kung Fu Master (1988), based on an idea by the film’s star Jane Birkin. This beautiful and funny film centres on a mother who becomes infatuated with a friend of her daughter, a young, precocious teenage boy. The boy is played by Varda’s son Mathieu Demy, and Birkin’s daughter is played by her real-life daughter, a very young Charlotte Gainbourg. This film is a true hidden gem; difficult to find, but so worth the effort. (As an aside, the story behind the making of this film is recounted within the brilliant 1988 documentary Jane B. for Agnes V., made simultaneously.)
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Philippa Hawker talking Agnès Varda, will be released on the morning of July 31 (AEST).