Make Voyages. Attempt Them. There is nothing else."
To enter Agnes Vardas' latest film, "Faces Places" is to enter a world where kindness, feeling and joy rule and where the sometimes ravaged but still beautiful faces of so-called everyday people are celebrated. In the film, the 89-year old Belgian filmmaker and her traveling companion J.R., the French muralist and photographer travel through the French countryside encountering people whose heroism is of the everyday quality -- staying alive in a world usually indifferent to them.
The duo, who create a sometimes comic, occasionally sparring partnership, travel around in a van equipped with a photo booth and a large-scale printing press that enables them to produce huge, mural-like prints of the people they encounter. One of the first people they meet is Jeanine, one of the last residents of a former miner's community set to be demolished. Jeanine tells them about her friends, her husband, what life in the mines were like. "You have no idea what we have lived through," she tells them. Varda, who was one of the stars of the French New Wave and J.R., who became known for his Inside Out Project take a portrait of her which they enlarge on a huge scale and paste onto the wall of her house as a way of honoring her. When she sees it, she begins to weep. Among those they encounter on their journey are farmers, factory workers, a mailman and militant dockworkers and their wives. They create huge mural photos of the the women and adorn them to buildings adjacent to the harbor.
Varda, who will be the first female director to receive an honorary Oscar this year, and whose films include "Cleo From 5 to 7," "The Gleaners and I" and "The Beaches of Agnes" told IndieWire that she loves documentaries because "I learn more discovering people." She is also careful, she said, to not exploit those whose stories she tells. " We go, we meet people, they just give themselves to the film, and then we go to festivals. Documentaries raise a process -- do we keep a connection with these people we film? We can't just do it and go home," she said.
There is a poignant moment towards the end of the film when Varda and J.R. go to Switzerland to see filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, with whom she once shared a close friendship and who she has not seen for many years. Godard doesn't show up and leaves her a cryptic note about her late husband French director Jacques Demy who made the iconic film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg." She weeps but forgives him anyways, leaving him a bag of pastries at his door.
Varda and J.R. acknowledge the ephemeral nature of the art they create when the tide washes away the large-scale portrait of the late photographer Guy Bourdin they attached to an old German bunker on a Normandy beach. They had stood admiring their handiwork and the memories the photo had evoked. But when they return the next day, it was gone, vanished into the sea.