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Top 10 Agnès Varda Films


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Born in Belgium and raised in France, as her family left Belgium in the midst of World War II for her mother’s hometown, Agnès Varda would become one of the most prolific French filmmakers of her period. Trained in photography and the arts, Varda utilized this background in the ’50s to become a director, making her debut in 1954 with La Pointe Courte. Despite often being associated with the artistry of the French New Wave, Varda actually began her work years before the greatest hits of French cinema and the French New Wave appeared on screens domestically and around the world.

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Before passing in 2019, Varda made her mark in the world of film globally. She released not only feature films, but documentaries as well. Her work spotlighted women’s perspectives and social issues, providing a different kind of perspective from an industry that was dominated by male directors and voices, thus making her work critical in this period of film history. If you haven’t seen these 10 Agnès Varda films, now’s the chance — they are the best of her extensive filmography.

10 One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977)

One Sings, the Other Doesn't scene where everyone gathers, singing and dancing
INLC

Varda came out with One Sings, the Other Doesn’t in 1977, and it is one of the representative movies from the middle period of her career as a filmmaker. The film begins in the early-60s, when Pauline, then a high schooler preparing for the next step of her life, discovers an old friend in an art gallery’s photographs. She decides to find her and reconnect, and this will completely change their lives for the next decade.

A Historical Event with a Fictional Story

The film is set against the Women’s Movement in France during the ’70s, as both of the main characters advocate for women’s rights. It may not be one of Varda’s most popular films, but its loud story about women fighting for equity can be a powerful one. Stream on Max

9 The Gleaners and I (2000)

Two farm workers bend to pick up crops in a dirt field in The Gleaners and I
MUBI

The Gleaners and I is quite a different movie; it’s technically a documentary film, and it has garnered quite a few fans since its release all those years ago. Its subject are gleaners, who are people who wander throughout France in search of excess crops. Varda interviews these people and their motivations, contextualizing the practice and career within contemporary France.

Unique Glimpses into a Little Known Career

While the documentary’s subject might be unique to France and its context, Varda exposes something human in her interviews with the people engaged in the process. Utilizing a cheaper video camera, this is a film that demonstrates how we can make a movie about anything. Stream on The Criterion Channel

8 Kung Fu Master (1988)

Charlotte Gainsbourg as Lucy smiles as Jane Birkin as Mary-Jane leans in closely in Kung Fu Master
La Sept Cinéma

1988’s Kung Fu Master is another movie in Varda’s filmography that has received little love in the years since its release. Jane Birkin stars as Mary-Jane, who meets a boy while attending a party thrown by her daughter. Mary-Jane is interested in him, but when he and her daughter collaborate on a project at school, it leads to an even more complicated feeling. The film then becomes a dance between the mother and boy.

Looking Beneath the Surface

On a surface level, Kung Fu Master can be deeply problematic because of the relationship age gap it depicts, but there’s a lot of commentary beneath that initial level created by Varda. Watching this movie with a critical eye can be highly beneficial, as well as contextualizing it within the period it’s set in. Stream on The Criterion Channel

Related: 20 Quintessential Movies in French Cinema

7 Murs Murs (1981)

Murs Murs -- scene with broken down car on the side of the road
Ciné-Tamaris 

Murs Murs is another one of Varda’s documentary films. Released in 1981, Varda ventured to Los Angeles, California, to train her camera on the art culture that surrounds ordinary people on the streets. She looks at the murals and their artists found throughout the city, asking questions about the politics and socioeconomics behind the communities, as well as the comments of locals living in the area.

Everyday Artists

Murs Murs mainly features Chicano artists, making this documentary a time capsule about the communities living within these neighborhoods in the ’80s. Full of life and art, this is a documentary everyone interested in its subject should watch at least once. Stream on The Criterion Channel

6 Black Panthers (1968)

Black Panthers rally scene
Ciné-tamaris

Varda was still getting started in her career when she released the documentary Black Panthers, which was filmed in Oakland, California. Varda follows those who have come to Oakland to protest against the arrest of Huey P. Newton, who was the co-founder of the Black Panther Party. She interviews Newton, the people who’ve come to protest, and those who want to fight for civil rights and a better future for the Black community.

A Much-Needed Documentary Work in a Critical Time

One of the biggest appeals of documentaries might not be how they capture big moments, but how some smaller ones create ripple effects. Some might not know of Newton’s arrest during this time, but Varda films those central to the story, showing how interconnected many fights for justice are. Stream on Max

5 La Pointe Courte (1955)

La Pointe Courte main characters sit by the seaside, talking.
Ciné-tamaris

La Pointe Courte was finished and released in 1955, and marked the directorial debut of Agnès Varda, who was embarking on an epic filmmaking career from this point onward. Its protagonist is Elle, who has just arrived in a town on the French seaside. She’s in a moment of uncertainty: as she goes to meet her husband, who’s from there, she contemplates whether she wants to continue onwards with this marriage or walk away from it all.

Rediscovering What’s Important in Life

The premise of La Pointe Courte is simple, and one many people can relate to. As the main character debates what to do next, the movie captures her uncertainty in such a beautiful, poetic manner despite the potentially devastating consequences. Stream on Max

4 Faces Places (2017)

Agnès Varda and JR pose in front of a large goat mural
Le Pacte

When Faces Places was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival, many would not realize this would be the second to last movie that Varda would ever create. A documentary, Varda joins forces with the French street artist JR. The two venture into small towns and villages throughout France, meeting new people and creating art about it in the process.

The Tapestry of Life and Humanity

This is a documentary that specifically focuses on those left outside the mainstream narratives, demonstrating how art is deeply interconnected to community and spirituality. The film also grapples with losing that humanity and approaching death, especially from Varda’s perspective. Rent on AppleTV

3 Vagabond (1985)

Vagabond arrived in the movie world with fanfare, as it took home the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival when it was screened there. Sandrine Bonnaire stars as Mona, who is first seen dead. The film goes back in time to show how she was first running from the police, and ends up living the life of a vagabond in wine country during a chilly winter.

Finely Constructed and Human

In the real world, some might look down on the protagonist of Vagabond, but this is a movie that reminds us that everyone is human, despite differing circumstances. Because the film gives away the ending, the technical elements and story drive this movie excellently, making it quite a journey to get through. Stream on The Criterion Channel

Related: 15 Best French Movies That Were Remade in English

2 The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

Agnes Varda posing with a bunch of brooms in The Beaches of Agnes
PBS

2008’s The Beaches of Agnès is another one of Varda’s documentary movies, and she puts herself at the center of the film. Throughout the course of the documentary, she revisits places from her past, reminiscing on the memories and people who once existed here, in this space, with her. At the same time, she celebrates her eightieth birthday.

Portraiture, but Through a Documentary Film

In The Beaches of Agnès, Varda creates a moving piece of art that captures the spirit of her career quite well. Although this was intended to be her last film, and it wasn’t, it would have been quite a statement to finish her career, and it did end up being just that. Stream on Kanopy

1 Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962)

Corinne Marchand as Cleo, touching her face
Athos Films

Released in 1962, Cléo From 5 to 7 is one of Agnès Varda’s most famous movies, and there are plenty of good reasons as to why that’s the case. A slice of life movie that takes place over the course of several hours, tracking the chores of the character Cléo. When she gets a tarot card reading that says something bad might happen, she goes through her routine in Paris, awaiting the results of her cancer diagnosis.

Finding Beauty in Sadness and the Mundane

As the film moves through the course of Cléo’s afternoon, there’s such beauty packed into how Varda filmed the scenes throughout the movie. With a meaningful message and story, there’s so much to admire in Cléo From 5 to 7.

Watch it on Max.

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