Faces Places (Visages, Villages)

 

Faces Places (Visages, Villages)

Director Agnes Varda and photographer/muralist J.R. journey through rural France and form an unlikely friendship. Faces Places is a 2017 French documentary film directed by Agnès Varda and JR. It was screened out of competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. At Cannes it won the L’Œil d’or award.

Faces Places (Visages, Villages) – Trailer official (English) from Cannes 

If the magnificently moving, funny, life-affirming, and altogether wonderful “Faces Places” (or, in its original language, the much smoother “Visages Villages”) is to be the 88-year-old Belgian auteur’s last film, it will be because of her failing eyesight or the inexplicable difficulty she’s had with funding her work, and not because she’s run out of things to say or novel ways to say them.

If this is to be her last film, then it will be one of cinema’s most extraordinary sendoffs, as poignant and perfect a swan song as Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” or Abbas Kiarostami’s “Like Someone in Love.” Never mind the fact that Miyazaki is supposedly working on another feature, or that Cannes is posthumously presenting Kiarostami’s final non-narrative work — when it comes to the truly great artists, the end is never really the end.

Indeed, notions of finality and (im)permanence cast a long shadow over “Faces Places,” which finds Varda teaming up with a semi-anonymous street photographer named JR, who serves as the film’s co-director, for a whimsical tour of the French countryside. The plan is to drive from one bucolic village to another, invite the locals to pose in the van that JR has transformed into a mobile photo booth, and paste massive print-outs of the resulting portraits onto the environments their subjects call home. Varda loves the idea, she’s compelled to “photograph faces so they don’t fall into the hole of memory.”

But while all of the people they meet are delightful characters who the film manages to milk for every ounce of their personality, Varda and JR inevitably emerge as the real stars here.

She is nearly 90; he is 34. She worked with Jean-Luc Godard; he looks like Jean-Luc Godard (and, much to Varda’s consternation, will similarly not take off his sunglasses). And yet, the movie is barely five minutes old before it’s clear that these two are a screen duo for the ages. From the charmingly animated opening credits, to the whimsical voiceover in which Varda and JR imagine all the places they might have met — cue footage of Varda dancing in a nightclub — the pair establish an instant rapport that feels too perfect to be faked. In regards to both their chemistry and its context, they come across like less competitive, more huggable versions of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (though it’s hard to say which is which).

Cannes Review: If ‘Faces Places’ Is Agnès Varda’s Last Film, It’s a Profoundly Moving and Absolutely Essential Farewell 

Agnès Varda may not see as well as she used to, but her creative vision has never been clearer. If the magnificently moving, funny, life-affirming, and altogether wonderful “Faces Places” (or, in its original language, the much smoother “Visages Villages”) is to be the 88-year-old Belgian auteur’s last film, it will be because of her failing eyesight or the inexplicable difficulty she’s had with funding her work, and not because she’s run out of things to say or novel ways to say them.

If this is to be her last film, then it will be one of cinema’s most extraordinary sendoffs, as poignant and perfect a swan song as Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” or Abbas Kiarostami’s “Like Someone in Love.” Never mind the fact that Miyazaki is supposedly working on another feature, or that Cannes is posthumously presenting Kiarostami’s final non-narrative work — when it comes to the truly great artists, the end is never really the end.

 Indeed, notions of finality and (im)permanence cast a long shadow over “Faces Places,” which finds Varda teaming up with a semi-anonymous street photographer named JR, who serves as the film’s co-director, for a whimsical tour of the French countryside. The plan is to drive from one bucolic village to another, invite the locals to pose in the van that JR has transformed into a mobile photo booth, and paste massive print-outs of the resulting portraits onto the environments their subjects call home. Varda loves the idea, she’s compelled to “photograph faces so they don’t fall into the hole of memory.”

But while all of the people they meet are delightful characters who the film manages to milk for every ounce of their personality, Varda and JR inevitably emerge as the real stars here.

She is nearly 90; he is 34. She worked with Jean-Luc Godard; he looks like Jean-Luc Godard (and, much to Varda’s consternation, will similarly not take off his sunglasses). And yet, the movie is barely five minutes old before it’s clear that these two are a screen duo for the ages. From the charmingly animated opening credits, to the whimsical voiceover in which Varda and JR imagine all the places they might have met — cue footage of Varda dancing in a nightclub — the pair establish an instant rapport that feels too perfect to be faked. In regards to both their chemistry and its context, they come across like less competitive, more huggable versions of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (though it’s hard to say which is which).

“Faces Places”

Varda has always possessed a warm and compulsively watchable screen presence, and the pint-sized iconoclast — easy to spot on the festival circuit in recent years thanks to the signature stripe of purple dye that rings around her hair like a bullseye — still has more pep in her step than most of us have ever had. JR is the real variable here, and everything about him makes you brace for a douchebag; between the arrogant scale of his art and the affectedness of his appearance, the young artist seems like nothing but trouble.

Fortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. JR is an absolute joy (and a mensch, to boot), and the playful relationship he develops with Varda makes you sad for all the years of her life that they didn’t know each other. Teasing at times, quietly deferential at others, he taps into his co-star’s inherent sense of wonder and creates a canvas big enough for her to fit all of the ideas that she’s still dying to project.

Cannes Film Review: ‘Visages Villages’

Agnès Varda’s latest thrift-shop documentary, about creating oversize images out of ordinary people, confirms that she’s the world’s most ageless filmmaker.

There was once a time — it now sounds ageist and sexist — when something would get written off as “an old man’s movie.” That meant a film created by a director at an age where just watching it, you could feel a certain stiffness in the joints, a too-slowed-down-for-its-own-good pace, a nagging (as opposed to enlightening) stillness of gaze. Examples of old man’s movies would be Alain Resnais’ “Wild Grass,” Elia Kazan’s “The Last Tycoon,” and — to me, though many would consider this opinion blasphemous — Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran.” But has there ever been a director who gives the lie to the old-man’s-movie trope like Agnès Varda? She’s 88, and makes films like she’s 28. Her movies are the opposite of old wo(man’s) movies. They’re a tonic — just watching them makes you feel younger.

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