There are some films, such as Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, that I love because they are mysteries to me and somehow I can watch them over and over with an odd distant curiosity. I watch these films the way I look at a painting or listen to a concert, always trying to decipher something that is slightly hidden to me. And there are other films that I love for their simplicity. Federico Fellini’s La Strada and Agnès Varda’s Daguerréotypes are two of them. These films are like simple gestures, beautiful in their simplicity. I watch them with a certain closeness, a certain familiarity. These are the films that have made me want to make films and allowed me to believe that perhaps I could.
I did not know when I first saw it that Daguerréotypes was made within the 90 meters around Varda’s house that could be reached with an electric cable running out of her mailbox. But it makes perfect sense to me, as if the cable had been in all the frames. I saw this film in school when I was studying photography, before I imagined I’d make films. Film to me was Hollywood. It was big: big budgets, big crews, big cineplexes and big popcorn. And I wasn’t interested in big. I was happy working alone with my little camera, printing in the dark room, working intuitively, privately. During my first year in graduate school I signed up for a video course by chance. The teacher of that course, Wendy MacNeil, the most unorthodox and passionate teacher I ever had, screened films such as Daguerréotypes, Jane Campion’s Passionless Moments, The Apu Trilogy — films that changed my understanding of cinema.
I have a terrible memory (that is probably why I film) and usually I cannot remember a film in it is entirety. I seem only to remember an image, a phrase or a scene at most. Yet the image from The Gleaners and I of Varda’s hand coming into the frame and catching the trucks on the road is as clear to me as if I were seeing it projected in front of me.
Watching The Beaches of Agnès, I see a woman toward the end of her life, not only remembering and reconstructing her past, but playing like a child. It is as if she takes the Lego, the crayons and the Play-Doh of cinema, throws them all around her and then plays relentlessly, curiously, without limits, without fear. Unrestrained by logic, by reason. And I’m left with the hope that one day I will play as freely and relentlessly as she does. And somehow she makes that seem possible.
Natalia Almada’s directing credits include El General (POV 2010) and Al Otro Lado (POV 2006), her award-winning debut feature documentary about immigration, drug trafficking and corrido music. Her work has screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Biennial, as well as at international film festivals, universities and conferences and on television networks such as PBS, ARTE and VPRO. Almada is a MacDowell Colony Fellow and a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow. Her awards include U.S. Directing Award at Sundance in 2009 and Best Documentary Feature at Cine Las Americas in 2009. She earned a master of fine arts in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and divides her time between Mexico City and Brooklyn, N.Y.