The great idiosyncratic original of the French nouvelle vague generation, Agnès Varda began her career as a photographer, and, in her use of the medium, remains one at heart. Her features and documentaries are equally characterized by a fascination with the found and the serendipitous, capturing the momentary and pondering the ways in which memory becomes something tangible—or the way memory shapes the world. The interplay of past and present—typical of Varda's first-person essays—reaches its apogee with The Beaches of Agnès—a memoir drawing on the 81-year-old artist's films and photographs, as well as her recollections. It's also a vehicle: "I'm playing the role of a little old lady, talkative and plump," she tells us up front. Varda is, to some degree, self-invented (having changed her name as a teenager from the ultra-French "Arlette" to the more austere "Agnès") and highly self-aware. The artist recreates childhood tableaux using old family photos; redeploys footage of her first meeting with her Greek relations; and revisits homes of her youth. Beaches documents Varda's artistic growth, along with her life, as she evolves from bustling scene-maker to self-conscious autobiographer. But mainly, the film is benignly haunted by her late husband, filmmaker Jacques Demy.
Varda retains her verve.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., Sept. 11–Thurs., Sept. 17. Not rated. 110 minutes.