Visages Villages (Faces Places) Directed by Agnes Varda and J.R.
Growing old playfully. Agnes Varda is a unique presence in the art world, starting with her photography and moving into how she views the world through a film camera lens. Looking through her ‘eyes’ always leads you to new discoveries about life, around and in us. Faces Places is no exception. Only this time Agnes needs to borrow someone else’s eyes. JR is young and brings his giant portable photo booth along for the ride as together they explore France’s villages.
There is a certain poignancy about Faces Places as Agnes explores parts of the country she knew so well and now cannot see clearly. She faces it all with a playful expectancy and thoughtful introspection. One mining village has been all but abandoned. One lone inhabitant is all that’s left but the memories of the place still remain as people come out to see what Agnes and JR will do. Memories become photos become parts of the walls themselves as dignity is restored to a dying breed of miners and their families.
Agnes and JR stop along the way to reminisce, compare stories and just remark on life. Reminding us to sit back and take it in every once and awhile. Life is remarkable, even the small moments, the impermanence of the little things can be awe inspiring. JR’s giant photos disappear over time as the wind and the weather constantly alter them, sometimes even overnight. But the dignity they give to the subjects of his photos is life changing. Elevating the everyday and mundane to something extraordinary.
Agnes approaches documentary film making with a spontaneity that is refreshing. Allowing her camera to capture the perfect moments and the imperfect ones. In one town a barista’s unexpected rise to fame makes her uncomfortable. JR’s giant stylish photo of her pasted onto the town square has rocketed her to local icon and her honest reaction makes Agnes sad. However, in another place the whole town turns out to bring to life an abandoned subdivision. Their holiday mood and creation of place brings joy and happiness to an otherwise depressing landscape. Each reaction genuine and unvarnished.
Dignity is allowing people their own voice, unedited, including the filmmakers themselves. Agnes allows the camera to follow her to her eye appointment where she explains what life looks like to her now. She also allows the camera to walk with her into the past as they visit places of significance and pain. Finding healing in the journey and disappointment. Reality sets in firmly at the end when a surprise visit ends in feeling rejected. Dignity is allowing for both happiness and pain to exist together in ourselves and facing both with courage.