The Complete Films of Agnès Varda

Program 2: Early Varda


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Synopsis

A founder of the French New Wave who became an international art-house icon, Agnès Varda was a fiercely independent, restlessly curious visionary whose work was at once personal and passionately committed to the world around her. In an abundant career in which she never stopped expanding the notion of what a movie can be, Varda forged a unique cinematic vocabulary that frequently blurs the boundaries between narrative and documentary, and entwines loving portraits of her friends, her family, and her own inner world with a social consciousness that was closely attuned to the 1960s counterculture, the women’s liberation movement, the plight of the poor and socially marginalized, and the ecology of our planet. This comprehensive collection places Varda’s filmography in the context of her parallel work as a photographer and multimedia artist—all of it a testament to the radical vision, boundless imagination, and radiant spirit of a true original for whom every act of creation was a vital expression of her very being.

Picture 8/10

The second dual-layer disc of Criterion’s large box set The Complete Films of Agnès Varda presents the director’s first feature film, La Pointe Courte along with her early shorts Du Côté de la côte and Ô saisons, ô châteaux. All three films are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and all three have also received 2K restorations (though Courte and Côté were scanned at 4K). All three films were sourced from their respective 35mm original camera negatives.

Criterion has previously released La Pointe Courte on DVD, found exclusively in their 4 by Agnès Varda box set. That high-definition restoration shows its age now, but for the time it’s still not too bad, looking rather sharp and clean, though a number of print issues remained. As good as that one (scanned from a fine-grain master positive) may hold up now this new restoration, performed in 2013, still manages to offer a drastic improvement over that one. Though still a bit soft around the edges, the image manages to be far sharper and more film-like, rendering grain significantly better while also improving upon fine-object detail. Gray levels look pretty good as well, with better tonal shifts in comparison to the DVD’s presentation.

Clean-up is more thorough here, and a number of the flaws that appeared in that old presentation are now gone, though some minor imperfections remain: a tram line that goes down Philippe Noiret’s face in one scene has been toned down but is still there, and there are the remains of what look to be mold stains in a handful of shots. Some other little blemishes pop up throughout but they’re all quite minor. The biggest improvement over the DVD probably comes down to image stability, the frame shifts and the pulsing that creeped in there on that presentation now gone.

The other two films, both colour, have also received very thorough restorations, and I was quite stunned how well they turned out overall, at least in clarity and sharpenss. Both are very sharp with incredible detail, whether on a beach or of a building exterior. Grain looks great as well, and both are pretty clean, though Ô saisons, ô châteaux shows some colour fluctuations in the bottom right corner of the frame a couple of times. There are also some minor marks scattered about both shorts.

Unfortunately, both films present heavy yellow tints, and it’s to a rather ridiculous degree. The sky has a cyan tint (as does the water on occasion) and the blacks are harmed in this process as well. Skin tones looks jaundiced and what should be white has more of a creamy look. Even the whites in the black-and-white material looks yellow-ish. I compared Du Côté de la côte to the version found on Criterion's DVD for Le bonheur and it's shocking just how different they look. The black-and-white archival footage on that presentation is actually tinted a heavy yellow-orange, whereas it's presented with that warmer straight black-and-white look here. But the colours for the rest of the film, while still warm, look far more natural in comparison to what is here. The ocean and sky actually look blue on the DVD, for example, and flesh tones look natural with no suggestion everyone's liver is beyond repair.

Ultimately, the presentations look great in how filmic and clean they are, but the yellow tint is a heavy-handed. It’s possible that the films are supposed to look this way (and the only reason I don't give them a lower score is because I don't know for sure) but it does look ghastly a lot of the time.

(As a note, about 47-or-so-minutes into La Pointe Courte, subtitles appear in the middle of the screen, I assume to make them easier to read because of how the shot has been composed. The DVD, on the other hand, does not do this, and it's probably because the DVD looks a little bit darker.)

Audio 6/10

All three films come with monaural presentations, La Pointe Courte in lossless PCM, and the two short films in Dolby Digital. The two shorts can sound a little edgy in places but are both pretty clean, with decent sounding voice-over narration and music. Courte has a general flatness to the whole thing, and can also be a bit detached, but this could just come down to filming conditions: Varda couldn’t afford live sound and everything was dubbed afterwards. Outside of that it’s clean and doesn’t present any significant damage.

Extras 5/10

Criterion does carry over everything from their DVD edition of La Pointe Courte and adds on a few other things. New to this edition is a 2012 discussion between Agnès Varda and actor/director Mathieu Amalric. It opens with Varda talking about the process that went into writing and directing her first film before Amalric steps in. After some pleasant greetings the two begin to talk, the discussion turning into an interesting reflection on the experience of directing a feature film for the first time, Amalric referencing his first feature, Mange ta soupe. I can't say the discssion is particulalry revalatory other than having Varda just sit and talk about how she went and managed to get her film made, but it's still a charming little addition. It runs just under 9-minutes.

Criterion then carries over the two supplements from their DVD edition of the film: a 2007 interview with Varda filmed by Criterion, and then an excerpt from a 1964 interview with her for the French television program Cinéastes de notre temps, running 16-minutes and 9-minutes respectively. The 2007 interview features the director talking about the location the film takes place in before getting into what she was trying to accomplish with the film, particularly in its narrative that jumps between the fishermen of the village and the central couple: basically have a private story and public story intermixed, showing how the two worlds can't combine. She also recounts how she managed to talk director Alain Resnais into helping her edit the film (he was apparently reluctant to do so) and then how she was finally able to get the film released. The 1964 interview features the director talking about her work up to that point, which also includes Du Côté de la côte and Ô saisons, ô châteaux (conveniently also found on this disc).

She talks about her reluctance in doing the shorter films as they were more commercial ventures, but she feels happy with how they turned out, which is pretty much the feel I got from the two 2007 introductions recorded for those shorts and appearing on this disc under their respective sub-menus. The director, for about a couple of minutes each, just gives some back story to their productions.

With La Pointe Courte Criterion also includes a 4-minute interview with film scholar Jhumpa Lahiri (and Antonio Monda), recorded in 2017 for The Criterion Channel, who talks about the film in terms of its cinematic language, explaining how she sees the film as more or a poem. It's fine, but I always felt these interviews created for the Channel were designed to be consumed quickly and this one has that feel.

 

Closing

La Pointe Courte offers a pretty substantial upgrade over Criterion’s previous DVD, while also carrying over all of the features from that edition. The other two films look strong as well but a heavy yellow tint that has been applied to the image makes them somewhat unappealing.

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Directed by: Agnes Varda, JR
Year: 1955-2019
Time: 2477 total min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Licensors: Succession Varda  |  Les Films du Jeudi  |  Cine-Tamaris  |  Cinémathèque Française
Release Date: August 11 2020
MSRP: $249.95
 
Blu-ray
15 Discs | BD-50
1.33:1 ratio
1.37:1 ratio
1.66:1 ratio
1.77:1 ratio
1.78:1 ratio
1.85:1 ratio
2.35:1 ratio
English 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
French 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Musical Score 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
French 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo
English 1.0 PCM Mono
French 1.0 PCM Mono
French 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 Interviews with Agnès Varda’s children, Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy,    Discussion about Varda recorded at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival for the North American premiere of Varda by Agnès, featuring Varda's children Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy, director Martin Scorsese, and Telluride Film Festival cofounder Tom Luddy, moderated by Annette Insdorf   Agnès Varda’s Credit Sequences: 2019 video essay on how Varda opens and closes her films, “cinewritten” by Alex Vuillaume-Tylski   Sensing Bodies video essay created in 2019 by French online publication Trois Couleurs   Conversation between director Agnes Varda and her cat Nini was shot in 2019   Trailer for Varda by Agnès   Janus Films Retrospective Trailer   2012 discussion between Agnes Varda and actor-director Mathieu Amalric about La Pointe Courte   2007 video interview with director Agnes Varda   Excerpts from a 1964 episode of the French television series Cinéastes de notre temps, in which Agnes Varda discusses her early career   2017 interview with author Jhumpa Lahiri on La Pointe Courte   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Du Côté de la côte   Remembrances (2005), a documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Agnes Varda and actors Corinne Marchand and Antoine Bourseiller   Excerpt from a 1993 French television program featuring Madonna and Agnes Varda talking about the film   Cléo’s Real Path Through Paris (2005), a short film retracing, on a motorcycle, Cléo’s steps through Paris   The Music of Michel Legrand: video essay made by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos for FilmStruck in 2016, explores the musical motifs in Cléo from 5 to 7   Trailer for Cléo from 5 to 7   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for L’opéra Mouffe   Agnes Varda on Les fiancés du pont Macdonald   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Les dites cariatides   Les dites cariatides bis   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais   Rue Daguerre in 2005, Agnès Varda pays visits to neighbors old and new thirty years after she made Daguerréotypes there   Bread, Painting, Accordion: short profile of Agnes Varda’s longtime bakery and accordion shop   Daguerreotypes, Photographic Objects: short video by Agnes Varda of a daguerreotype exhibit in 2005   Footage of an outdoor concert in Paris’s 14th arrondissement in 2005, shot by Agnes Varda   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Le lion volatil   Interview with Agnes Varda from 1998 about Le bonheur   The Two Women of "Le bonheur", a short piece featuring actors Claire Drouot and Marie-Françoise Boyer   Thoughts on "Le bonheur", a discussion between four scholars and intellectuals discussing the concept of happiness and its relation to the film   Two short pieces by Agnes Varda investigating people   Jean-Claude Drouot Returns (2006), a featurette in which the actor revisits the film's setting forty years later   Segment from the 1964 television program Démons et merveilles du cinéma, featuring footage of Varda shooting Le bonheur   Trailer for Le bonheur   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for Les créatures   Television program covering the production of Les créatures   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Elsa la Rose   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Uncle Yanco   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for The Black Panthers   2014 introduction by Agnes Varda for Lions Love (...and Lies)   Viva Varda!, long-lost 1970 French television interview between Agnes Varda and Lions Love (... and Lies) star Viva   2014 introduction by Agnes Varda for Mur Murs   Two Street Artists, profile of street artists Jérôme Mesnager and Miss.Tic   Trailer for Mur Murs   Nausicaa: 1971 television film by Varda that was ultimately seized and supressed without reason after completion   Women Are Naturally Creative, a 1977 documentary directed by Katja Raganelli, featuring an interview with Agnes Varda shot during the making of the film, plus on-set interviews with actors Valérie Mairesse and Thérèse Liotard   Trailer for One Sings, the Other Doesn't   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Réponse de femmes   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Plaisir d’amour en Iran   Remembrances (2003), a documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with Sandrine Bonnaire and other cast members   The Story of an Old Lady (2003), a short piece in which Agnes Varda revisits actress Martha Jarnias, who plays the old aunt in the film   Music and Dolly Shots, (2003), a conversation between Agnes Varda and composer Joanna Bruzdowicz   A 1986 radio interview with Agnes Varda and writer Nathalie Sarraute, who inspired the film   David Bordwell on the plotting in Vagabond   Trailer for Vagabond   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for 7 p., cuis., s. de b. . . . (à saisir)   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for Jane B. par Agnès V.   Interview with actor Jane Birkin about her work with director and friend Agnès Varda   Trailer for Jane B. par Agnès V.   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for Kung-Fu Master!   Interview from 1988 with actor Jane Birkin and director Agnes Varda on the twin releases of their films Jane B. par Agnès V. and Kung-Fu Master! aired on the Swiss television news program Bonsoir   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for The Young Girls Turn 25   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for The World of Jacques Demy   A Fun Moment with Michel Piccoli, 2004 interview where Agnes Varda reflects on One Hundred and One Nights and shares footage from an with an on-set interview with Piccoli   Set Visits, Director Agnes Varda narrates this behind-the-scenes footage featuring some stars that make cameo appearances in One Hundred and One Nights, including Marcello Mastroianni, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Catherine Deneuve, Robert De Niro, and Alain Delon   Trailer for One Hundred and One Nights   Hands and Objects: on Agnès Varda’s Shorts, a conversation among Anne Huet, Agnes Varda, and critic Alain Berlaga about the director's short films   Excerpts from Varda's unfinished films La melangite and Christmas Carole   1971 commercials for "Collants Minuit" and "Tupperware"   Post-Filmum to "The Gleaners and I"   The Gleaners Museum   Pre-Filmum to "The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later"   Tribute to Zgougou, tribute to Varda's cat   Chance is the Best Assistant: codirectors Agnes Varda and JR discuss the making of Faces Places   "The Beach Cabin" outtake from Faces Places   Codirectors Agnes Varda and JR discuss the music of Faces Places with composer Matthieu Chedid   Trailer for Faces Places   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Salut les cubains   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Ulysse   Une minute pour une image: a selection of photographs accompanied by commentary by intellectuals and artists - the filmmaker herself included - for French television   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Ydessa, les ours et etc   Around Trapeze Artists: 2009 featurette directed by Agnes Varda   Daguerre Beach: 2008 featurette directed by Agnes Varda capturing the creation of the beach in front of her house for The Beaches of Agnès   Scholar Kelley Conway discusses director Agnès Varda’s unique approach to self-representation in The Beaches of Agnès   Trailer for The Beaches of Agnès   Quelques veuves de Noirmoutier: adaptation by Varda of a video installation originally created to accompany L’île et elle, an exhibition she had presented at the Fondation Cartier in Paris into a documentary for ARTE in 2006   Installations: short profiles by highlighting the installation work Agnes Varda did across the world as a visual artist, starting in 2003   A lavishly illustrated 200-page book, featuring notes on the films and essays on Varda’s life and work by writers Amy Taubin, Michael Koresky, Ginette Vincendeau, So Mayer, Alexandra Hidalgo, and Rebecca Bengal, as well as a selection of Agnes Varda’s photography and images of her installation art