By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
“A little old lady, pleasantly plump and talkative,” is how Agnes Varda, 81, describes herself in the autobiographical documentary The Beaches of Agnes. Film buffs familiar with Varda’s work (The Gleaners and I, Vagabond, Cleo From 5 to 7) might be tempted to add a few superlatives to the description.
But the diminutive Varda, the only woman to become a revered member of the French New Wave, is nothing if not humble. Even in a documentary devoted to her life and memories, she comes across as self-deprecating, funny and immensely likable. Using a free-form structure, Varda revisits the beloved beaches of her youth that inspired her creatively and recounts an amazing personal history that included not only movies but also photography, political activism, motherhood and marriage (to Umbrellas of Cherbourg director Jacques Demy, who died of AIDS in 1990).
Although there are occasional reenactments of scenes from her life, The Beaches of Agnes is best when Varda simply tells a story, such as the one about convincing Jean-Luc Godard to remove his omnipresent sunglasses so she could “photograph his beautiful eyes.”
Replete with clips and anecdotes, The Beaches of Agnes is a treat to anyone who already cherishes Varda’s films and a perfect primer for those who haven’t yet discovered her work (readily available on DVD). The movie is also an inspiring ode to a life well lived, told by a woman whose advanced age hasn’t diminished her faculties, humor or artistic spirit.
With: Agnes Varda, Mathieu Demy, Rosalie Varda.
Director-writer-producer: Agnes Varda.
A Cinema Guild release. Running time: 109 minutes. In French and English with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford Cinema.