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Merci Beaucoup, Agnès Varda

Shea writes about Agnès Varda's legacy and why she will be remembered for years to come.

The announcement of Agnès Varda’s death last Thursday was news I had been preparing for, considering her tender age of 90, but that did not stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. I sat on my bed for a moment, unable to rush out the door despite being late to start my busy day. I felt it was vital to take a moment and remember her joyful, zesty spirit that translated so deeply into her work. Agnès has become a popular person among cinephiles, especially with this generation’s social media participants, who celebrated moments such as when Agnès sent a cardboard cutout of herself to the Academy Awards’ luncheon, but she was more than a cute, little lady. Agnès Varda was a mighty artist who loved life and has inspired many, including myself, to live life to the fullest.

Agnès was no ordinary artist. She was alive for some of the worst atrocities of the century and was the only female participant in arguably one of the most influential film movements since the invention of the medium. Her status of a legend is not just as a director, but as a photographer, documentarian, activist, feminist, cat lover and a friend to all she met. Agnès constantly had a camera ready to capture her own experiences while also admiring images enough to purchase pictures of unknown people, which she then framed and placed on her wall.

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Agnès on the set of Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962)source: Ciné-Tamaris

Her admiration for life was a rarity which not only benefited the appearance and tone of her projects, but gave a unique authenticity to the final products. She was compassionate to those she met, giving out love in a way that was remarkably unconditional. Even her works of fiction contain empathy, which makes films such as Cléo de 5 à 7 an iconic work full of trust and charity, making a case to step inside the shoes of the protagonist. There is proof in Jean-Luc Godard appearing in the film without his dark glasses that Agnès was worthy of trust. In every film, she showcased friends and acquaintances and talked about them all like they are her favorite people in the world. I believe that Agnès truly did love the good in the world and was adamant about displaying it.

Agnès’ ability to love also led to her activist work. She did what she could to make the world a more enjoyable place for all those around her. In 1968, while living in Los Angeles, she documented the beginnings of the Black Panther Party and participated in anti-Vietnam rallies. When back in France, she signed her name on the Manifesto of The 343, a document of 343 women that publicly declared they had an abortion, admitting they had broken a law. In film, Agnès is a trailblazer for female directors and filmmakers to be in the industry. She never changed her style or personality for a man, even forfeiting the chance to work in Hollywood after she retaliated when a man pinched her cheek. In her film from 2003, Les plages d’Agnès, she explains that he deserved it. I bet he probably did.

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Jacques et Agnès – source: Elle France

Though Agnès treasured all those who she came in contact with, her main person was obviously Jacques. Her lifetime partner and fellow New Wave director, Jacques Demy, died in 1990 from complications with AIDS. His early death never stopped Agnès from sprinkling his memory into everything she did, like he was a muse from beyond. A few of her projects surrounded Jacques, including Les demoiselles ont eu 25 ans, which is a documentary displaying the behind the scenes footage of his musical masterpiece, and my favorite film, Les demoiselles de Rochefort. The footage collected is a mix of Agnès’ and possibly others who were also on set. There is a moment where Jacques takes off a sweater while explaining something to Catherine Deneuve. Agnès’ explains she knows she captured this moment because only a lover would so delicately catch a subtle moment. I strive to have a love and understanding like that one that existed between these two, that was tender, caring, and unafraid to appreciate the little moments. 

His impact on her life was a true example of love and understanding between two human beings, without gender roles or control that is still too common in relationships today. They raised two wonderful children, both who now work in the film industry, and displayed an understanding and acceptance for the next generation. I know that Agnès is happy to be reunited with her Jacquot.

The world has been around for 4.5 billion years and somehow I got to share the earth with Agnès Varda. Maybe we were never in the same room, or country, or even continent at the same time, but being able to know a world that has been touched by such a strong artist is an honor. She was a trailblazer for women, a representation of true love, and an example of how to live life to the fullest. Merci beaucoup, Agnès Varda.

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Agnès Varda – source: Bobby Doherty/Vulture
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