It’s opening day of our career-spanning Agnès Varda retrospective, running through January 6! To celebrate the series, we spoke to a person who was intimately involved in the legendary director’s filmmaking process. We’ll let her make the introduction: “My name is Rosalie Varda, and I’m the daughter of Agnès Varda and Jacques Demy. I take care of a family company called Ciné-Tamaris, which protects and distributes the films of Agnès and the films of Jacques. This company is managed by me and my brother Mathieu Demy, who is an actor and film director.”
In conjunction with the retrospective, Rosalie Varda talked to us about Varda’s luminous body of work, film by film. Check out the video below, along with quotes, Q&As with Agnès Varda from here at FLC throughout the years, and more. See showtimes and get tickets for the retrospective here.
Rosalie Varda on La Pointe Courte:
La Pointe Courte is her first film. The film was done with very little money. I think even her mother gave her some money to do this film. It had poor distribution. It didn’t make any money. It had good reviews and bad reviews. All the guys of Cahiers du cinéma really didn’t like the film, because they didn’t like the fact that a woman, years before them, could do a film with a lot of liberty. And she was not going to the Cinémathèque every afternoon like them. She didn’t know Dreyer. She didn’t know Bergman. She didn’t know Bresson. But she did a film. They were kind of annoyed, a little bit.
Rosalie Varda on Cléo from 5 to 7 (opening night reception on Dec. 20, RV intro on Jan. 4):
Cléo from 5 to 7 is really the film of Agnès that is well known over the planet. The film is wonderful, because there are two wonderful things in the film. There’s the story of what she’s telling about this woman, which is beautiful and only lives by the eyes of the others, and by eyes of the men looking at her, like a sex object, like an object, like a beautiful woman. And suddenly she realizes that maybe this is not her life and suddenly she wants to look at people. She wants to decide about her life. So this is the first theme. And suddenly she is waiting for medical results, to see if she has cancer or not. And the film is in real time, so it’s one hour and a half, not two hours, and the camera is always on her. I love the idea that the TV series 24 was a big success ten years ago. In fact, I read that the pool of the writers, the showrunners, knew Cléo from 5 to 7 by heart. It’s funny, no?
Rosalie Varda on Le bonheur (opening night reception on Dec. 20):
Le bonheur—Happiness in English. What is happiness? Please tell me! Le bonheur is a singular film because she did it in 1964, and in that period to direct a film about the point of view of a man being happy in his family life and suddenly being in love with another woman and thinking that maybe he could love the two of them. It’s the idea of: Can you add love? Or is love a subtraction? I don’t know the answer. And the wife dies and finally the mistress takes the role of the wife. Is it a feminist film? It’s the question we think of today. I think the film is very interesting because it’s giving the question: should we stay in a couple and never have a love affair? What is happiness in a couple? Where do you put the level of happiness? It’s a good question for a new generation that now have movements that are much stronger than in that period, like feminism and the MeToo movement. I think it’s a film that the young audience should take a look at.
Rosalie Varda on Lions Love (and Lies):
This film is totally wild, I think it’s a kind of documentary about 1968 in Los Angeles, a period that is kind of a peace and love period that stopped in the ’70s. The funny story is that she met Andy Warhol in New York at the Factory and Warhol knew Agnès’s films. He knew Cléo from 5 to 7, he knew La Pointe Courte, he knew Le bonheur, and he was very interested in her work. So when she contacted Viva to be in the film, Viva asked Andy Warhol because she was in the factory and very close to him, “Do you think I should be in the film of Agnès?” And he said, with that little voice, “Oh yes, Viva, you should do it. Agnès Varda, she is great.” And always Agnès was saying that story, saying, “It’s so funny.” When Warhol did his magazine, Interview, he decided to put Agnès on the cover of the first issue. This film is really funny, I think. And in a way it shows how America was different in that period than Europe. The power of television—having the television on all the time, like you have now still—and the politics. And at the same time, this little liberty of “ménage à trois,” but it’s not Jules and Jim by Truffaut, it’s another “ménage à trois.” I can tell you that the shooting was wild, like Agnès said, “I don’t need to smoke, because they smoke and I get on the set and I’m high.” [Laughs]
Rosalie Varda on Daguerréotypes:
How can you film next to your house when you just had a baby and you don’t want to go out? Answer: do Daguerréotypes; you just film the shops around your house. That’s the funny way to present Daguerréotypes. My mother had my brother Mathieu Demy in 1972. She really wanted to film, but she didn’t want to go far, so that’s how the Daguerréotypes project came about. I think it’s interesting because you realize how a street can change in 30, 40 years, and all those little shops went away and now we have all those malls. There were little shops next to one: you had the butcher, the boulangerie, the market, the vegetables, the tailor, and it’s sociology. Every time Agnès found a way to put in a little something else. And in Daguerréotypes, there is the question she asks to those anonymous persons of those shops: “Do you remember your dreams?” And I love that and some of the answers are wonderful.
Rosalie Varda on One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (Q&A with RV on Jan. 4):
I was eighteen and I was finishing high school and she said to me, “It’s going to be your eighteenth birthday. I have a beautiful gift for you.” And I thought it was gonna be a dress or a pair of shoes or something you like when you’re a teenager. And she said, “I did a film and I want you to be the last shot of the film because you’re the hope.” I thought, “Oh, that’s a gift?” So I took a train, went on set and I did the last scene. I hated it because I didn’t want to be an actress at all. I didn’t want to be in front of the camera. But I love this film because it is so fresh on feminism, and it really conveys the idea that even if you begin a life of misery you can change and you can grow and you can get older and you ask yourself really important questions about having children or not, being in a couple or not, being free or not. What is freedom? And I think this film is very modern, even today. Agnès was always saying, “Some of the words I want to say in the film about feminism, if I don’t put them with music the men are going to be wild. They won’t even listen to it, so I need to put music and do songs, so it would be a little softer. But I’m going to say the things.” I hope that young generations will come and see this film at the retrospective at Lincoln Center.
Rosalie Varda on Mur Murs:
Mur Murs is really a documentary. When Agnès did it, she didn’t realize that this documentary would be so important now. Because you know half of the murals or maybe more than half of the murals have disappeared. So when she did it in 1981, she was suddenly very interested with all those artists painting those walls. It’s funny because you understand when she works later on with JR, pasting on walls, that they have that in common. But now Mur Murs is really showing the community. It’s a kind of documentary really showing what happens on those walls and in certain parts of Los Angeles, between the gangs, who would speak to each other by the walls. It’s so incredible. It’s nice.
Rosalie Varda on Documenteur:
Documenteur is maybe the most personal film of Agnès. And it was a moment of her life where I think she was very sad about the passing of Jacques Demy, and it’s maybe the only film where she really shows how you feel when you’re not loved anymore by the person you love. It’s a tough film. It’s very beautiful and it’s very aesthetic. The emotion of her goes by what she is shooting of the emotion of the situation. It’s a very sophisticated film.
We started out doing sketches for the film Jane B. Par Agnès V., which came out in 1987; she wanted me to be Joan of Arc, a poor Dickensian person… She even wanted me to dress as a Spanish dancer, which I didn’t want but did because this was part of our deal. I would do whatever she wanted and she would do what I wanted. And that was Agnès. She was so small but she was very bossy.
Agnès had the most extraordinary imagination. As soon as I thought we had finished the film, she would come up with another idea. Then I gave her a script I’d written about a young boy of around 15 who has a fixation on a 40-year-old woman. Agnès felt she had to honour my ideas so she made Kung-Fu Master!. Her son Matthew played the boy, I played the woman, and she asked my daughters Charlotte and Lou to also be in it. At the time Aids was in the headlines and she insisted we deal with it in the film. This was Agnès; she was very opinionated about things and if she was working on something and there was an issue that was current, she felt you had to mention it.
Rosalie Varda on Vagabond (RV intro on Jan. 5):
Vagabond is beautiful. The structure of the film is very interesting. What Agnès did with Sandrine [Bonnaire] together, it’s incredible. It was her second or third film, and she was seventeen and she was so courageous. And she felt in a way so bad about being so dirty, so violent. It was tough on her. Years later, she said it structured her as an actress, but it was tough shooting. They were cold. They didn’t have enough money. It was difficult to do. But always, Agnès said we keep the line, we do the project. It was the only film of her career that made money—a little money, but it made money.
Rosalie Varda on Jacquot de Nantes:
That’s the gift she gave to Jacques, but Jacques never saw the film. He was always telling us about his childhood, and he wrote a novel about his childhood and she said, “Let’s do something together!” And he was sick and it was a way to share positive things rather than go to the dark. But then he couldn’t; he was too tired. So she said, “Maybe I could do the film of your childhood.” And he said, “That’s a good idea.” And then in this film—it’s incredible—she used three narrations: she put the fiction of his own childhood, she put abstracts of his own films where he was inspired by his own childhood, and then she filmed Jacques. It’s a very emotional film and in a way it shows how when you are very young you can have a desire of doing something when you are an adult and you can do it. That little boy of seven years old or eight wants to be a film director and he will do that. “Evocation d’une vocation,” we say in French. It’s when you feel you are meant to do this job, not destiny. Jacquot de Nantes is really about the education of images. In France, the film has been shown a lot in schools, in colleges. And usually the children really like that film.
Rosalie Varda on The Young Girls Turn 25:
What happened is that the city of Rochefort called Agnès to say that they wanted to do a kind of anniversary of the 25 years since the shooting of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. And she said, you know, you go to these things and it’s always a little boring. But Agnès, with a curiosity of always doing wonderful things, received a lot of drawings from kids. And suddenly she realized that for this city, this shooting was very important. So suddenly, she had the desire to go there and to meet them. And at the same time, she could do some interviews of Catherine Deneuve, Michel Legrand, and more people who worked on the film. So it’s a little postcard.
Rosalie Varda on One Hundred and One Nights (Q&A with RV on Jan. 6):
I have a very funny story about Robert De Niro in this film. He came in Paris for one day of shooting. It was kind of a dream idea for Agnès to put Robert De Niro and Catherine Deneuve [on screen together]. So he is a star, he arrives on the set. Agnès said, “Maybe you are tired? You can tell us the hours you want to work.” And he said, “No, no problem I prepared myself.” Agnès asks, “What do you mean?” He answered, “Well, since three days in New York, I put my hours on French hours so I don’t have the jetlag.” It’s great! Can you imagine Robert De Niro organizing his life in New York at the time of Paris, to be sure that when he arrives on the set for one day, he would not be like, “I just came back from the plane and I feel [tired].” It’s not only professional—because I hate that word—it’s so much respect for what you are as an actor. You should not have the problem of what is around you, you should just be on the set and just be what you are going to give to the director, to the film. I was amazed of his respect to do this.
Rosalie Varda on The World of Jacques Demy:
The World of Jacques Demy is a documentary that Agnès did after his death, so that right away some people could talk about him and about their collaboration with Jacques. But it’s more a formal documentaire. Usually she is more free with documentaries, she goes around the subject. I think this film is more a normal documentary to have these testimonies.
The Gleaners and I is just a little miracle. She discovered the digital camera and she was like a teenager filming. And suddenly looking at that man on the market eating the garbage gave her the idea to go digging and meet people. And inside of that of course she puts a little bit of herself, like always, in her film. It was a wonderful adventure for her, meeting these people. And after the film, she received so many packages with potatoes and gifts and lettuce, and then she had the idea to do Deux ans après, which means Two Years After. First, I go back to see these people. What happened? Did they progress in their lives or not? And then I can show all the gifts and the love that people sent me after the film. And the fact that people were emotional to see a potato. A potato is maybe the cheapest vegetable. I think it was important for her, that this was a kind of vegetable that suddenly can be beautiful. And that vegetable being shaped like a heart is like a little gift.
Rosalie Varda on The Beaches of Agnès:
The Beaches of Agnès is a very delicate film, because it’s not an autobiography. It’s how you can speak about your family, your life, and your films in a very light way. So at the beginning it started with another project; in fact it was a kind of documentary on her. And she thought, “Well, why shouldn’t I do a documentary about my life?” So that’s how it really started, the project of The Beaches of Agnès. At one point, she wanted to show her family. I like that scene on the beach. It’s a little bit like a dream. It’s not family. She is not saying my son is like this, my daughter is like this. That didn’t interest her. It’s a little dream of her family dancing with her.
Rosalie Varda on Agnès Varda: From Here to There (playing for free!):
It’s a series that Agnès did for Arte Channel in France. In fact, after making The Beaches of Agnès she traveled a lot around the world to show the film. Each time, in each city, she met new people, and she was interested in artists. And in fact this series is how she met artists in different countries. It’s kind of a road movie, but the road is not one road, it’s multi-road, and it’s episodic. I don’t think it was released here in the United States.
Rosalie Varda on Faces Places:
I had the idea for Faces Places, but at night I thought to myself: I like JR’s work, Agnès too, but she doesn’t know him. I called him and I said, “Do you want to meet my mother? It feels stupid to say that, but would you like to come in and meet my mother?” And he said, “Of course, I know her films, I love The Gleaners.” He was introduced to Agnès’s films by The Gleaners and I, like a lot of people in that generation. When they met, I felt right away that they had something to share together. And I think that to be able to do a project together when you have more than fifty years of difference, it shows that it’s possible. And if you speak the language of art and if you are open-minded to think that the person in front of you is not just an old woman, it’s wonderful. It’s a very humanist film for the young generation. It’s to show them to share with all kinds of people, not only artists. They can give you a lot of information and things that you don’t know.
Rosalie Varda on Varda by Agnès:
I hope with Varda by Agnès, they will want to go and see a film, maybe a film of Agnès but [any] film. That they will realize that the narration and editing is everything in a film and they will have the desire to go a little bit further. I think Varda by Agnès is not only for cinephiles and for students of cinema. It’s more an education of images. It’s even for people who don’t know Agnès Varda’s films. It gives you a little taste of what is cinema and maybe a little reflection of how you conceive a film, how you do a film.