A compendium of anecdotes about Varda from some of her boldfaced collaborators and conspirators.
Jane Birkin, Actress
What first comes to mind when I think of Agnès is the cartoon she’s associated with: the Jeanne d’Arc hair crop with the red fringe in the little doll frock. Then comes higgledy-piggledy, all the anecdotes and wise words, the stubbornness, the emotion. At the Moscow Film Festival, I found her in the cloakroom sobbing behind the furs: “Oh, the harshness! The censors! The difficulty they have to even get your script off the ground! The injustice!” That’s the same Agnès who gets us all up and naked at the casino where her dad lost all the family loot. And then there she is, outside my door in her little red car, to keep me company when my mama died. That’s life with Agnès—exhausting though it is, it’s more fun than with anyone else.
Ava duVernay, Director
I remember a beautiful spring morning, having breakfast with Agnès in Cannes. She was funny and loving and wise, and oh so kind to me. She talked with me in detail about my films and allowed me to ask about hers. Agnès’s impact is beyond description. Her work itself has a breadth and importance that cannot be overestimated, or adequately described in a few lines. Her personal energy is an engine for so many of us. A shining light for so many of us. A beacon of hope.
Angelina Jolie, Actress and director
When I think of Agnès, I think of us sitting barefoot on the floor after a screening of one of her films, talking about life and laughing. How do I do her justice? She is a woman in full, who combines grace and intellect with an irresistible sense of fun and lightness of spirit. She has learned to find joy in life and she transmits that to everyone around her. She’s not interested in conforming to anyone else’s idea of what a woman or an artist should be, and her independence of mind is part of what makes her so distinctive. I think her impact will continue to grow with time. People often speak of how she broke new ground for women filmmakers—and she has—but to discuss it that way is to limit her contribution. She broke new ground as an
Isabelle Huppert, Actress
Agnès’s vitality is magic. She is a true artist, and she always surprises us with new ideas. Which is to say nothing about what she means for all women. Agnès was a pioneer. Last but not least, when I think of her I think of her red hair. Agnès is a punk.
Thierry Frémaux, Director of the Cannes Film Festival
Agnès is the type of person you encounter several times in a lifetime. As a spectator, I first met her through her most well-known films, especially One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, which I saw in theaters when I was 17. I met Agnès in person in Lyon at the Lumière Institute. And then there was this other encounter with The Gleaners and I at the Cannes Festival in 2000. To see this singular, unique work screened in a small theater was mind-blowing. It’s the reason why, since becoming director of the Cannes Festival, I’ve systematically included documentaries in the Official Selection—all of those films in competition, just because of that one.
In 2015, we awarded Agnès the honorary Palme d’Or, and she dedicated her award to “all the inventive and brave filmmakers who don’t get recognized, but who keep going.” Agnès is that crucial link in an invisible chain of female filmmakers. Along with Alice Guy, Germaine Dulac, with Ida Lupino or Dorothy Arzner, she has been one of the most important female filmmakers in history. She is the Simone de Beauvoir of cinema.
Adel Abdessemed, Artist
The first time I met Agnès was on a train to a conference in Arles. We talked a lot, about her life as a child in Belgium. It was a mixture of something that I felt concerned with in my works—a mélange of something that was about her and something that was about me. The result was extremely intense. When we arrived at the conference in Arles, she slept the whole time.
Agnès lives cinema. When you spend time with her, you discover that there is no boundary between the movie and outside the movie. Being with her is being in a film.
Molly Haskell, Film critic
Agnès and I met in the mid ’60s, when I was working at the French Film Office in New York. It was only my second job, and Agnès had come to present Le Bonheur. I was fascinated and terrified. Agnès was always formidable. She had already directed Cléo from 5 to 7 and was known as part of the Right Bank filmmakers that included Alain Resnais and Jacques Demy. But we also became friends. She is great fun, hard-headed but also feminine. She has a strong sense of home and family, and is a fiercely loyal friend. Agnès looks like an imp, but she also has a steamroller quality. If you interview her, it is she who will direct the proceedings.
Photos: Everett Collection, Getty Images