Agnès Varda, French New Wave Director

Patates (c)2000 Agnes Varda, From The Gleaners

Patates (c)2000 Agnes Varda, From The Gleaners

The first film I saw directed by Agnes Varda was The Gleaners and I, a documentary released in 2000. Varda talked to a variety of people who gleaned produce, junk, and materials to make a living or because they collect or hoard. I really liked the cinematography, the little snippets of Varda’s quirky life, and the way she connects with gleaners of kinds without judgment.

La Pointe Courte (C) Agnes Varda

La Pointe Courte (c) Agnes Varda

Ms. Varda started her career as a photographer and her visual sensibility is an important part of her films. La Pointe Courte was Varda’s first feature film, produced in1955. Philippe Noiret and Silvia Monfort star as a young married couple struggling in their relationship in the small town of La  Pointe Courte. It’s typically French in that there are no easy answers to life’s large problems. The cinematography is beautiful.

Currently she’s a Professor of Film and Documentaries at the European Graduate School (EGS).  Her father was Greek and her mother was French. She studied at the École du Louvre and the École des Beaux-Arts. She then went on to work at the Théâtre National Populaire in Paris as a photographer.

Cléo de 5 à 7 (c) CINE-TAMARIS

Cléo de 5 à 7 (c) CINE-TAMARIS

One of her best known works is Cléo From 5 to 7, a black and white film released in 1962. Filmed in real time, Cléo wanders through Paris while waiting for the results of a medical test she believes will indicate she has cancer. We overhear conversations in cafes, and random bits of everyday life while Cléo waits.

The Beaches of Agnes

The Beaches of Agnes

Her most recent film was The Beaches of Agnes, an autobiography, a reflection on turning 80, and a look back on her life and art. She includes a poignant look at her late husband, Jacques Demy, a filmmaker as well. (The Umbrellas de Cherbourg) See this New Yorker snippet review of the DVD.

Sue Agnes

Ms. Varda is barely visible behind the gray haired gentleman. I’m giddy.

On a recent trip to Paris, my sweetie and I went to a community yard sale/junk sale (vides-grenier). I sat down at a cafe and Todd wandered along the various stalls. He was rummaging though some CDs at Cine-Tamaris when he looked up and saw Agnes Varda! He hoofed it back to the cafe to get me and we hustled back to see if she was still there. I said hello and told her how much I love her films. It was the highlight of our trip.

The Criterion Collection has a number of Varda’s films available.

European School of Graduate Studies – biographical information

Art on Screen: A Conversation with Agnes Varda

Cine Tamaris is Varda’s company, which has descriptions of all her films.

Roger Ebert’s review of Cleo From 5 To 7


Parisian Adventure on Rue Daguerre

 © 2013 Todd Mecklem

© 2013 Todd Mecklem

One Sunday a few weeks ago, my sweetie and I decided to check out the community yard sale (vide-greniers) on Rue Daguerre in the 14th arrondisement. It was a beautiful day for a stroll along the shops and stalls set up along the street. It’s not a touristy place at all, and has an authentic French feel about it. The neighborhood doesn’t have any actual yards nor garages to hold yard sales so they just set up tables out in the street, which was closed to traffic.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but this community yard sale was amazing. There were some 200 residents who had little tables set up with curiosities, antiques and junk. It was a very social event because the stalls were jammed next to each other.

Rue Daguerre vide-greniers  © 2013 Todd Mecklem

Rue Daguerre Vide-greniers © 2013 Todd Mecklem

I wandered down the street looking at the stalls and saw designer clothing, vintage jewelry, children’s toys, lots of books, used kitchen tools, odd paintings and figurines, and all kinds of other stuff. At one woman’s table, I rummaged through some old jewelry and at the bottom of pile was a plastic bag with a dusty old makeup case set. I pulled the items out of the bag and realized the objects were covered in face powder, not dust. I brushed them off a bit, and saw that the cases were covered in silk, with petit-point insets created by hand. The woman selling them said they were from the 1950s and were “typically French.” I bought the set as a fun souvenir. There’s a comb case with a comb, a lipstick holder that looks like it’s not been used, and a compact with powder and a very fuzzy feather powder puff that I’ll probably toss.

petit point

Of course I had to dig through all the boxes of scarves in case there was an Hermes silk scarf calling my name; I didn’t find one but I did find this colorful scarf by Carven. It cost a euro!

The best part of the adventure was yet to come. I sat down at a cafe for a while to people watch and Todd came back and told me he’d seen and gotten to talk to film director Agnès Varda. Wow! For those not familiar with Madame Varda, she’s a French film director whose early works are considered precursors of French New Wave cinema. Her films include the seminal Le Pointe Courte (1956) and Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) and the more recent Beaches of Agnes and The Gleaners and I.

Meeting this iconic director was a great experience; she was gracious and charming. She was busy selling things at the sale for a non-profit she works with that empowers young women so I didn’t ask her for an autograph. Also, I didn’t want to look like the déclassé American tourist in front of her home and business.

For more information on Agnès Varda, see this short essay at the Criterion Collection and her faculty page at the European Graduate School. Her company, Ciné-Tamaris, produces and manages both her and her late husband Jacques Demy’s work.


Agnès Varda © 2013 Todd Mecklem (She’s in the middle.)

Sue Agnes

Sue exults after meeting Agnès Varda. © 2013 Todd Mecklem

This adventure down Rue Daguerre was one of the highlights of our trip. I’ll write soon about a Man Ray exhibit I saw in London and a haute couture exhibit in Paris.