Varda by Agnès

The final film from French New Wave pioneer Agnès Varda is touching, but there's little new to be gleaned from it

Film Review by Thomas Atkinson | 22 Jun 2019
  • Varda by Agnes
Film title: Varda by Agnès
Director: Agnés Varda
Starring: Agnés Varda
Release date: 19 Jul
Certificate: 15

This isn’t the first time Agnès Varda has delivered her own eulogy. In 2008, just as the Mother of the French New Wave turned 80, she made The Beaches of Agnès, her magnum opus of self-examination and autobiography. Then, nine years later, in what we now know was the twilight of her life, she thrust herself back into the public consciousness – arguably with more visibility than ever before – with Faces Places. Though the film is often affectionate and funny, there was little ambiguity about what it signalled: Varda would not be here much longer.

Yet, the exact timing of Varda by Agnès, which premiered just over a month before Varda's death in March, makes it a little more definitive. Largely composed of clips from various speaking engagements Varda held in the final years of her life interspersed with morsels of select films from her six-decade career, it's her final film – but it also feels like the final word on her legacy. In that regard, Varda by Agnès’ very existence is as good a testament to its director's irrepressibility as any; it's as if she can’t bring herself to put down the camera until it becomes impossible to pick it back up. 

But that's the film's main pitfall. It picks apart Beaches of Agnès in a similar fashion to how Beaches picked apart her other films. Why try to improve on perfection, though? Hearing Varda analysing an analysis isn’t nearly as fun as just watching the original, not least because the original's presence in this film serves as a reminder of how much better it was at meta-commentary than Varda by Agnès. Here, the construction is just as bald, but it’s only as inspired as its predecessors when it throws itself into their same wacky mode. [Thomas Atkinson]

Varda by Agnès, 22 Jun, 8.45pm, Odeon Lothian Road (Mark Cousins introduces the film) & 29 Jun, 8.35pm, Odeon Lothian Road

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Released 19 Jul by BFI; certificate 15