Ewan Gleadow

Review: Faces Places

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It’s a shame that I’d not heard of the legendary director Agnes Varda until a couple of days after she had passed away. 

Her resonance with fans of French cinema is one of her most pivotal selling points.  Varda is responsible for some of foreign cinema’s most important movies: La Pointe CourteCleo from 5 to 7 and Vagabond are cornerstones of her impressive, half century portfolio. So what better way to remember such an apparent auteur genius than to look at Faces Places, one of her final – and acclaimed – pieces. 

What Faces Places exactly wants to present, I’m not entirely sure, but then again, I don’t think directors Varda or JR know what they want to do either. Very early in the film it’s made clear that Varda wants to see where the adventure takes them, with no itinerary or plan. I respect that style of filmmaking, I really do, it can lead to some excellent documentaries (Icarus springs to mind) and can have universal relevance.  

For some aspects of Faces Places, that rings very true. There’s a definite sense that the documentary is an important study not just of the life of Varda and her friend JR, but also the people around them that make them who they are.  

Varda and her culmination and acceptance of death being right around the corner is reserved for the final half hour of the movie, and it’s there that it begins to pick up in pace. I had headed into this looking for an analysis of the friendship Varda holds with JR, and it’s sort of what I received. The first hour of the movie feels aimless, just jumping from person to person until the two find some common ground. Eventually though it becomes clear that the two are firm friends for one reason, the respect and love they have for their art.  

But I suppose that’s the beauty of Faces Places, isn’t it? The fact that the boundaries of age are broken down by these two talented auteurs, each highly respected in their field and, as the movie progresses, we see that they’re more alike than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. It’s heart-warming in that regard, even if the documentary itself doesn’t really have much else going for it unless you’re a fan or interested in the work of Varda.

She remains an important voice of cinema and Faces Places ably showcases Varda in her penultimate feature length film.