Noirmoutiers, in northwestern France, is an island when the tide is high and part of the mainland when it’s low. A quirky, peculiar place, then, where Agnès Varda, a major figure of the French New Wave, has made her home these many years. Varda now uses herself and her life to give us a documentary/memoir of her eighty years. The movie is light and whimsical, yet deep in its quiet insights, precise in the use of words as of images, from her childhood in Belgium to her life with Jacques Démy, the director of the lovely and unclassifiable Umbrellas of Cherbourg among other classics.
The author of many important films, among them Cleo de 5 à 7, the story of a woman who has two hours to kill while waiting to see her doctor who will deliver a verdict of cancer or not uses her signature style, moving lightly between cities, innumerable friends, and yet another beach, another seascape of those she has lived by and loved these many years. She is too serene, too open, too understanding to ever be called obsessed by anything but the sea and its relation to her home is central to the the new film, as it was to an exhibit last year at the Cartier Foundation.
That exhibit, ‘L’ile et Elle,’ showed video montages, collages, sketches and photos all inspired by Noirmoutiers, the island where time slows down enough to allow the hours to pass dreamily, watching seagulls, listening to the roar of the tide, interviewing other widows on their fond memories. Varda says “If you open people, you’ll find landscapes. If you open me, you’ll find beaches.”
Les plages d’Agnès, just released in France, is a thoughtful, gracious film about a woman who hides nothing about the fear of grief, aging and loss but comes through magnificently through the joy of creation, permanent intellectual curiosity, and the redemption brought by those we love.