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Agnès Varda

Award-winning French film director Agnès Varda has been producing and directing films for over 55 years. She was born on May 30, 1928, in Brussels, Belgium, to a Greek father, Eugene Jean, and French mother, Christiane (Pasquet) Varda. Varda trained as a photographer and had little early exposure to cinema, yet her unlikely union with filmmaking has been an enormous boon for the world of cinematography and its viewers.

In 1954, Varda produced and directed her first film, La Pointe Courte. The film presaged the techniques later associated with French New Wave filmmakers, earning her the informal designation “grandmother of the French New Wave,” though today many critics consider her to be more closely aligned with the younger, more politically engaged Left Bank filmmakers, who count Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Jean Rouch and Varda’s husband, Jacques Demy, among their number.

Varda’s major films include Cléo From 5 to 7, Happiness, One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, Jacquot de Nantes, One Hundred and One Nights, Ulysses and The Gleaners and I. On April 12, 2009, she was given the rank of Commandeur of the French Legion of Honor. The Beaches of Agnès is one of Varda’s most critically acclaimed films, and it won the 2009 César for best documentary.

In addition to writing her own films, Varda has written dialogue for the works of others, most notably for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. She also served as producer for Jacques Demy’s Lady Oscar.

Varda resides in France and has two children, Rosalie Varda-Demy and Mathieu Demy.

Sources:
» Vincendeau, Ginette. "La Pointe Courte: How Agnès Varda 'Invented' the New Wave." The Criterion Collection, 21 January 2008.
» "Agnes Varda Topics Page." The New York Times.
» "Varda, Agnes." Film Reference.
» "Agnes Varda." Yahoo! Movies.
» Farmer, Robert. “Marker, Resnais, Varda: Remembering the Left Bank Group.” Senses of Cinema, September 2009.


French New Wave Film

The French New Wave, or La Nouvelle Vague, represented a major — and influential — shift in cinema in the 1950s and 1960s. The work of New Wave-affiliated newcomers, including François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette, challenged traditional filmmaking techniques. Many of the group’s ideas were published in the journal Cahiers du Cinéma, for which the noted New Wave directors also served as critics.

One of the key concepts of the New Wave was the auteur theory — the notion that a director of a film is analogous to the author of a book. Signature techniques of this school of filmmaking include shooting on location, using natural light, improvising dialogue, featuring existential themes and employing long tracking shots or jump cuts (a jarring style of editing in which a continuous shot is unexpectedly, and often illogically, interrupted). Many of these then-groundbreaking conventions have been adopted by later generations of filmmakers and have even become commonplace — contemporary filmmakers from Quentin Tarantino to Wong Kar-wai have acknowledged the movement’s influence on their work.

There are various explanations for what started the movement. At the time, young people were challenging social conventions, and those involved in filmmaking were no exception. Lack of financial resources may also have played a role in the decision to shoot the long takes that would become a defining feature of the style. Varda’s first film, La Pointe Courte, shot on location with a minimal budget and a combination of professional and amateur actors, has been called the first New Wave film. Varda, who was 26 at the time she made the film and had had little previous exposure to filmmaking, has been termed the “grandmother” of the movement.


The Left Bank Group

In the 1960s a new group of filmmakers emerged that was dubbed the Left Bank group. Critics and scholars generally disagree on who coined the term and even on whether the group — whose films were characterized by strong political content, experimentation and a literary sensibility — was a subset of the New Wave or stood in opposition to it. The primary members of the Left Bank group — Varda, Demy, Chris Marker and Alain Resnais — had been creating films as long as or longer than some of the New Wave directors and had often been characterized as New Wave themselves. According to scholar Robert Farmer, the group was “indeed the intellectual/political/feminist/literary/avant-garde wing of the French New Wave,” though Varda biographer Alison Smith counters, “Varda maintains that there was never anything more shared by the group than friendly conversation and a love of cats.”

Sources:
» Vincendeau, Ginette. "La Pointe Courte: How Agnès Varda 'Invented' the New Wave." The Criterion Collection, 21 January 2008.
» Farmer, Robert. “Marker, Resnais, Varda: Remembering the Left Bank Group.” Senses of Cinema, September 2009.
» Smith, Alison. Agnès Varda. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1998.





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I wanted to be like a bird. I wanted to be free in my memory, to go from one part to another and see what I would find.”

— Agnès Varda, Filmmaker