The Beaches of Agns

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The Beaches of Agns

Another adorably whimsical yet casually profound documentary from France’s Agns Varda—isn’t she tired of impressing us already? The Beaches of Agns shows its maker, a spry 80 here, cavorting on the seaside, sailing up the Seine in a small skiff and reflecting on her life.

Varda is, to art-house regulars, the director of 1962’s Cleo from 5 to 7, a femme-centric rejoinder to the efforts of her peers in the New Wave boys’ club. But as we see in this new biographical doc, she is also a doting mother, an abortion-rights protester, a chatty Cathy and an affectionate collaborator. Her early years appear to have been spent largely on boats and beside oceans. Varda returns to these places—including her Brussels childhood home, now owned by toy-train enthusiasts—to interact and re-create scenes like Fellini did with Intervista. She seems to be having enormous, goofy fun.

But behind her sometimes clownish irreverence is a deep well of loss. So many of the people in Varda’s photographs are gone; in one gallery scene, she accesses tears easily. She knew Jim Morrison and Delphine Seyrig. And of course, there was Jacques Demy, her genius husband who transformed Paris into a whirling, umbrella-laden musical. You sense that Varda, for all her adventurous art-making, only wanted to grow old with her man. (She admits to a twinge of jealousy while filming a happy elderly couple dragging beach chairs through the sand.) And yet, her film finds exuberance in the act of recollection, like making a happy discovery in a thrift store.—Joshua Rothkopf

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See also “The sands of time”

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