Some things aren’t the best, or the most urgent, or the funniest, or the one thing you can’t not see or read before you go to bed. But sometimes, that’s the best reason to check them out. It’s counterintuitive, I know.

Legendary film and documentary director Agnès Varda is getting up there in years. She recently turned 86 but she retains a sprightly point of view and a globe-trotting itinerary, as seen in her delightful Agnès Varda: From Here to There, a five-part docu-series airing on Sundance Now.

This is a travelogue of Varda’s journeys to film festivals, art and award shows, but it’s all really just a template for Varda to visit friends and to film and comment and find beauty and truth wherever she stumbles upon it.

There are meals and hotel rooms; views from trains and planes. The series is filled with digressions and amusements; she plays with on-screen avatars of herself during a visit with artist Chris Marker; Portugese director Manoel De Oliveira does a Charlie Chaplin jig for her; a performance piece at the Venice Biennial gets stuck in mud.

It’s become a common sight to see celebrities wielding video cameras or taking pictures while on the red carpet. Varda raises the form to a higher level as a video journal told by a compassionate, wise, and fun narrator.

She touches on depths of understanding. An act of freezing an image of a woman jumping over a puddle becomes a comparison of two mediums — still photography and moving pictures.

And she lets others speak for themselves. A bald female journalist in Stockholm who has come to interview her becomes a subject herself. And the story of her hair loss and its impact is fascinating.

Or there’s the footage of Varda’s Uncle Yanco, an artist, who says, “Between conception and execution there’s such a tragic difference. As between the cup and the lip, there is bitterness. The shadow fails.” Whoa.

From Here to There reminded me a little of the series in which Gwyneth Paltrow and friends traveled around Spain to eat good food and live the good life. It was all rather unseemly and smug. You just can’t feel that way with Varda. The connections here are too apparent. The reflections too deep. And the humor too authentic.

It’s a joy to watch her having so much fun. She’s earned it.

The series Agnès Varda: From Here to There is available as part of a Varda collection for $4.99 on Doc Club.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kind Singles, including the bestselling Kind Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen