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  Beaches of Agnès, The All Her Life
Year: 2008
Director: Agnès Varda
Stars: Agnès Varda, various
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Agnès Varda announces herself on the beach as a filmmaker, a plump and talkative little old lady who has been making films for so long now she may as well turn her camera on herself and deliver those interested in her picaresque, varied life something approximating an autobiography. Now, her idea of an autobiography is not everyone else's, and she makes it clear she is not about to approach her life, which she in in her eightieth year of, as simply as many another director, so what ensues is a selection of highlights of that existence, both in archive and recreated form, with appearances by those she affected.

Though the person who seems most affected, in a good way, was Varda who by this stage was evidently not finding the funding for her narrative work and had resorted to creating documentaries about whatever took her fancy now she could apply her busy mind to the real world thanks to the ease and accessibility of new camera technology. In 2000’s The Gleaners & I, she had found a new enthusiasm for her metier with a handheld model, and it seemed she was still in that flush of romance with such machines as she employed them with a surprising directness, her butterfly mind notwithstanding.

That combination, where Varda was obviously recording material as it came to her, was as modern as you like in the twenty-first century where the recording of one's day to day thoughts and events had become an absolute must for billions, but she had the advantage in that she was far ahead of the curve, and had decades of footage to choose from and assemble. Selecting from her family photographs - lasting back before the Second World War to her childhood in Belgium, to which she feels little connection other than those idyllic beach holidays she loved - to her artworks, through to when she first picked up a camera herself, this brought up intriguing prospects.

In that in the centuries to come, as the self-collection became the overriding impulse in the population, just about anyone could make a film like this come the end of their lives, and indeed even if you didn't something pretty comprehensive could be collated from other people in whose lives you appeared. When anyone would find the time to watch all these and still live their lives was more up for debate, though if everyone's lives revolved around recording themselves perhaps it would not matter so much, but the fact remained Varda had lived her time in a manner that was genuinely worthwhile, and her insights and humour generated a lot more entertainment for that express reason.

When your archives contain images and voices of some of the greatest of the acting and theatrical professions, there is always going to be someone interested in checking them out (even soft porn magnate Zalman King, yet another in her wide network of friends, showed up in an unexpectedly charming bit yet with little explanation of his cinematic and televisual legacy to, er, late night entertainment), though some of those key names may be lost to anyone but the experts before long, never mind the lower profile folks. If Varda kept them alive, then so much the better, as seen in the moving sequence where she laments all those she has outlived and you well believe her when she tells us they were wonderful people if they affected her so deeply.

With clips from her first feature all the way through to her more recent ones, a heartfelt tribute to her husband Jacques Demy who she always expected to grow old with, but then he passed away from AIDS, ruminations on her family who also appeared after a fashion, digressions into her extensive work in activism and her passion for photography - she could have been one of the great post-war photographers had the fancy taken her, or that's the impression, and eccentric additions such as fellow New Wave survivor Chris Marker representing himself with an orange, talking cartoon cat or those recreations on the beach that look playfully surreal in their mirror-based visuals, this was like no other biopic anyone had ever dreamt up and all the better for it. Absurd, as obscure as you wanted, but with a lot of soul. Music by Joanna Bruzdowicz and Stéphane Vilar.

[This is available on the Agnès Varda Blu-ray 8-disc box set along with six other features, a selection of shorts and a wealth of other interview material with the director, one of the greatest woman filmmakers of all time.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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