FACES PLACES (VISAGES VILLAGES) (Agnès Varda & JR, 2017)
New York Film Festival, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Sunday, October 1, Alice Tully Hall, $25, 12:30
Monday, October 2, Francesca Beale Theater, $25, 8:30
Festival runs September 28 - October 14
“We’ll have fun making a film,” legendary eighty-eight-year-old Belgian-born French auteur Agnès Varda tells thirty-three-year-old French photographer and street artist JR in Faces Places (Visages Villages), a masterful road movie that may very well be the most fun film you’ll see all year. The unlikely pair first met when Varda, who has made such classics as Cléo from 5 to 7, Vagabond, Jacquot de Nantes, and The Gleaners and I, accepted an invitation from JR, whose practice involves wheat-pasting giant black-and-white photos of men, women, and children on architectural structures, to visit his Paris studio. (JR brought his “Inside Out” art project to Times Square in 2013.) When Varda saw JR’s blow-up of a 1960 self-portrait Varda shot of herself standing in front of a Bellini painting in Venice, the two instantly hit it off and decided to make a film together, heading out in JR’s small photo-booth truck to team up with people in small towns throughout France, including coal miners, dockworkers, farmers, a church-bell ringer, and factory workers. The reactions of the villagers — shrewd, curious, flattered — to JR’s enormous wheat-pasted blow-ups of themselves on their neighborhood walls, barns, abandoned housing, containers, water towers, and other locations are fascinating. “JR is fulfilling my greatest desire. To meet new faces and photograph them, so they don’t fall down the holes of my memory,” Varda, who edited the film with Maxime Pozzi-Garcia, says. Varda and JR make a formidable duo, finding a childlike innocence in their collaboration that is simply captivating to watch.
Varda continually tries to get JR to remove his ever-present dark glasses, remembering how her friend and colleague Jean-Luc Godard once let her take pictures of him without glasses, but JR prefers to maintain his mystery, a man who photographs tens of thousands of people’s faces around the world while never fully showing his own. Varda, who relies on the “power of imagination,” even sets up an afternoon with Godard at his home in Switzerland, preparing by having JR roll her furiously through the same Louvre galleries the protagonists run through in Godard’s Band of Outsiders, but of course nothing with Godard ever goes quite as planned. “Chance has always been my best asset,” Varda proclaims in the film, and it is chance, and the willingness to enthusiastically embrace every moment of life, that helps give Faces Places its immeasurable charm. The film, which features a playful score by Matthieu Chedid (‑M-) and was executive produced by Varda’s daughter, Rosalie Varda-Demy, subtly tackles socioeconomic issues but is primarily a marvelous celebration of genuine humanity. Faces Places is screening at the New York Film Festival on October 1 at Alice Tully Hall and October 2 at the Francesca Beale Theater, with both shows followed by a Q&A with Varda and JR.