Oceanic Feeling

By

Published July 1, 2009

Photos courtesy of Cinema Guild

 

“If we opened me up, we’d find beaches,” Agnès Varda says at the beginning of her new documentary, The Beaches of Agnès. And there are plenty of them in this autobiographical film, which is less about Varda than the places she’s been, the scenes she’s filmed, and the people she’s known in her 80 years. It’s a creative gateway into the life and mind of Varda, the only female director to come out of the French New Wave. (The Belgian-born filmmaker married The Umbrellas of Cherbourg director Jacques Démy, who died in 1990.)

And so, a life in beaches:

La Panne, Belgium: In the playful opening scene, Varda sets up mirrors on the gusty beach here as a lead-in to questions of self and memory. Her family’s home was in nearby Brussels.

Sète, Belgium: Varda hung out on the waterfront, where her family lived on a boat, as a teenager. More than 50 years after filming Les Joutes, the city’s ceremonial river jousting matches, she returned for another look.

 

Corsica: Having learned to repair fishing nets in Sète, Varda spent a summer working with fishermen in Ajaccio. It helped her get over her shyness towards men.

Los Angeles: Varda fell in love with Venice Beach in the 1960s, while Demy was working on a project in Hollywood. She filmed Lions Love in LA with Jim Morrison and Viva, the Andy Warhol star.

Noirmoutier Island, France: The island’s widows and children have been inspirations for her films, and she’s returned to this section of western France over the years to “reflect on why and how to be a filmmaker in such a messed-up world.” Beaches alludes to Valéry’s lines about the renewing tides: “La mer, la mer, toujours recommencé.”

The French Riviera: Varda took her breakout film, Cleo from 5 to 7, to Cannes in 1962 and was happy to look on while star Corinne Marchand magnetized the press.

Paris: Not really a beach, until Varda dumped six truckloads of sand into the street outside her office on Rue Daguerre for Beaches.  She set up desks, phones, and printers and put her employees to work in one of the film’s cheekiest scenes. And she takes it all in good stride when it rains.

The Beaches of Agnès opens today at Film Forum.