Agnes from 11 to 12
Women in Motion Talk with Agnes Varda
On the eve of receiving an honorary Palme d'or during the 68th festival de Cannes, the first female director to do so, Agnes Varda gives the concluding Women in Motion Talk. Now credited with launching the Nouvelle Vague in French cinema, this charming, sprightly 87-year old, belies a fierce independence in her work in film, photography and art.
There was standing room only for this most attended Talk of all, as Agnes Varda revealed she always wanted to try [new things], to understand, to create contemporary film, to make cinema libre [cinema without ties] and never to do the same thing again – “it doesn't interest me at all to repeat.” Being free from constraints, “I could decide quickly, at the last minute”. It explains her approach to films that made her name, like her debut Pointe Courte, in which she explores the life of a fishing village and a changing relationship between two young lovers, Philppe Noiret in his first film.
“I haven't had a career: I've made films; I haven't succeeded because I'm not rich.” With tongue in cheek, she said: “I've received many prizes, lots of animals – a golden lion from Venice film festival, a bear from Berlin, dogs and so on – but never money.”
Varda said, “I'm still a feminist, but I didn't want to be the film-maker who represented feminism.” She believes feminism doesn't mean you have to break everything, “to throw our bras into the street”, but it's a reflection on the condition of women. For example, It was only in 1976 that Varda worked on a film where the crew was 50:50 women and men. Indeed, she was the first director in the world to use female technical staff, believing there wasn't a function a man did that a woman couldn't. But she was quick to point out that it was not a quality to be a woman, “It's what we do with ourselves”.
Varda admires other female film-makers such as writer-director-actor Barbara Loden (known for making Wanda), “I don't think a man could've produced such a sensitve film”. She also mentioned director Claire Denis, who was also a guest speaker for a Women in Motion Talk at Cannes; as well as film-maker Miranda July, known for Me and You and Everyone we Know.
Rebel with a cause
Varda is proud her film Cleo from 5 to 7 has been designated by festival's general director Thierry Fremaux as one of the Cannes Classics (thereby joining a pantheon that includes Orson Welles' Citizen Kane and Carol Reed's The Third Man). Before showing us a clip, she explained the first half, exactly 45 minutes, is how protagonist Cleo is seen and defined by others in her life; the second three-quarters of an hour is about how she regards them. It's an emotional but also highly structured movie, being shot in (almost) real time, and portrays a rebellious young female, “rebelliousness is part of being a woman”.
Varda likes to treat women's subjects. She showed a video of her installation, The widows of Noirmoutier, where she interviewed the former wives of fishermen who had died. The audience can listen to a different widow's story according to which chair, with its accompanying headphones, they choose. One local male spectator told her, “It was the first time I've listened to my mother”.
When asked whether she was optimistic or pessimistic about woman's condition, Varda paraphrased philosopher Remzi, who believes you should be a pessimist about a situation but an optimistic in the operation. “But”, she added, “it's complicated; there's complexity in society, contradictions in marriages or couples; it's complicated to live....”
She ended by stating that women are on the margin but as fellow Nouvelle Vague director Jean-Luc Godard once said, “It's the margin that holds the book'; we shouldn't suffer to be at the margin; we're on the side that holds”. She did feel, however, that we should avoid making women speak: “That makes a ghetto. It's better to include women in juries at festivals, selections and so on”.