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Agnès From 5 to 7

MOVIE REVIEW
The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

6
Cinema Guild

Agnès Varda, icon of the French New Wave and its leading female voice, has continued to perfect her unique brand of filmmaking in the years since that burst of cinematic exuberance subsided. Now, at age 80, she’s come out with “The Beaches of Agnès,” a whimsical autobiography that covers the span of her career. It’s a characteristically colorful, poignant work full of exquisite compositions and dreamlike reflections that serves as an ideal encapsulation of the Vardian sensibility.

The picture begins with Ms. Varda and her crew setting up a shot on a beach, one of the many that serve as the benchmarks by which the filmmaker says she measures her life. From that jumping off point, the film cycles back to her childhood in Belgium, her introduction to cinema and her time spent working in France and Hollywood, during periods of major cultural upheaval. It recounts the great love story of her life, with her late husband Jacques Demy.

Ms. Varda presents herself as a dean of cinema who is “playing the role of a little old lady who is telling her life story.” With knowing glances towards the audience, repeated visual and verbal dissertations on the relationship between her camera, its subjects and quirky hand-drawn graphic insertions or backgrounds, Ms. Varda shows us a filmmaker still blessed with a keen grasp of the tools of her trade.

In its dissection of the remarkable periods of history she experienced and indelibly impacted, the film nostalgically recalls a long gone era in which Ms. Varda and her colleagues were more firmly lodged in the mainstream cultural conscious. Most significant, however, is the portrait of an artist every bit as enthused by the possibilities of her medium today as she was nearly a half-century ago. “The Beaches of Agnès” may be a summation of its maker’s career, but it’s hardly a farewell.

THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS

Opened on July 1 in Manhattan.

Produced, written and directed by Agnès Varda; directors of photography, Alain Sakot, Hélène Louvart, Julia Fabry, Jean-Baptiste Morin and Ms. Varda; edited by Ms. Varda, Mr. Morin and Baptiste Filloux; music by Joanna Bruzdowicz, Stéphane Vilar and Paule Cornet; released by Cinema Guild. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes. This film is not rated.

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