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Agnès Varda

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Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda
Varda receiving an honour at the Guadalajara International Film Festival, 2010
Born (1928-05-30) 30 May 1928
Ixelles, Belgium
Occupation Director, screenwriter, editor, actor, producer, installation artist, photographer
Years active 1955–present
Notable work Cleo de 5 a 7, La Pointe Courte, Vagabond (film)
Spouse(s) Jacques Demy (1962–1990; his death)
Children 2

Agnès Varda (born 30 May 1928) is a French film director and professor at the European Graduate School.[1] Her films, photographs, and art installations focus on documentary realism, feminist issues, and social commentary — with a distinct experimental style.

Film historians have cited Varda's work as central to the development of the French New Wave film movement; her uses of location shooting and non-professional actors were unconventional in the context of 1950's French cinema.[2]


  • Early life 1
  • Personal life 2
  • Professional life 3
    • Involvement in the French New Wave 3.1
    • Style 3.2
    • Notable Films 3.3
      • La Pointe Courte 3.3.1
      • Cléo from 5 to 7 3.3.2
      • Vagabond 3.3.3
      • Jacquot de Nantes 3.3.4
      • The Gleaners and I 3.3.5
  • Awards and honors 4
  • Filmography 5
    • Feature film 5.1
    • Short film 5.2
    • Television 5.3
  • Publications 6
  • Further reading 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Varda was born Arlette Varda on May 30, 1928, in Ixelles (Brussels), Belgium, the daughter of Christiane (née Pasquet) and Eugène Jean Varda, an engineer.[3] Her mother was French and her father came from a family of Greek refugees from Asia Minor. When she was a teenager, she left Belgium in 1940 and fled to Sète, France to live with the rest of her family. She studied art history and photography at the École des Beaux-Arts. She went on to work for the Théâtre National Populaire as a photographer. In interviews, Varda has admitted to not seeing many films when she was young.[4]

Personal life

While living in Paris, she met her husband, Jacques Demy. Demy was also a French actor and director.[4] She was married to Demy until his death in 1990. Varda has two children - a son, Mathieu, and a daughter, Rosalie.[5]

Varda was one of the five people to attend Jim Morrison's burial in 1971 in Paris at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. She was a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005 and a member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1983.

Varda's handprints at Cannes

Professional life

Agnès Varda is a significant figure in modern French cinema. Her career pre-dates the start of the Nouvelle vague (French New Wave), and La Pointe Courte contains many elements specific to that movement.[6] In an interview with The Believer, Varda stated that she wanted to make films that related to her time (in reference to La Pointe Courte), rather than focusing on traditions or classical standards.[7] In 1977, Varda founded her own production company, Cine-Tamaris, in order to have more control in shooting and editing.[8]

In 2013, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art held Varda's first U.S. exhibition called "Agnes Varda in Californialand." The exhibition featured a sculptural installation, several photographs, and short films, and was inspired by time she spent in Los Angeles in the 1960s.[9]

Involvement in the French New Wave

The French New Wave movement was broken into two subgroups: the Cahiers du Cinema group and the Left Bank Cinema group.

Because of her literary influences, and because her work predates the French New Wave, Varda's films belong more precisely to the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) cinema movement, along with Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean Cayrol and Henri Colpi. The group was strongly tied to the nouveau roman movement in literature and politically was positioned to the Left. Its members would often collaborate with each other.


Varda's work is often considered feminist because of her use of female protagonists and creating a female cinematic voice.[8] Many of her films use protagonists that are marginalized or rejected members of society, and are documentarian in nature.

Like many other French New Wave directors, Varda was likely influenced by auteur theory, creating her own signature style by using the camera "as a pen." Varda describes her method of filmmaking as cinécriture (cinematic writing or "writing on film"). The term was created by merging "cinema" and "writing" in French.[10] Rather than separating the fundamental roles that contribute to a film (cinematographer, screenwriter, director, etc.), Varda believes that all roles should be working together simultaneously to create a more cohesive film, and all elements of the film should contribute to its message. She claims to make most of her discoveries while editing, seeking the opportunity to find images or dialogue that create a motif.[11]

Because of her photographic background, still images are often of significance in her films. Still images may serve symbolic or narrative purposes, and each element of them is important. There is sometimes conflict between still and moving images in her films, and she often mixes still images (snapshots) in with moving images.[12] Varda pays very close attention to detail and is highly conscious of the implications of each cinematic choice she makes. Elements of the film are rarely just functional, each element has its own implications, both on its own and that it lends to the entire film's message.[13]

Many of her influences are artistic or literary. Some of her influences include: Surrealism, Franz Kafka, and Nathalie Sarraute.[10]

Notable Films

La Pointe Courte

Varda liked photography but was interested in moving into film. After spending a few days filming the small French fishing town of La Pointe Courte for a terminally ill friend who could no longer visit on his own, Varda decided to shoot a feature film of her own.Thus in 1954, Varda's first film, La Pointe Courte, about an unhappy couple working through their relationship in a small fishing town, was released. The film is a stylistic precursor to the French New Wave.[14] At the time, Varda was influenced by the philosophy of Gaston Bachelard, whom she once studied under at the Sorbonne. “She was particularly interested in his theory of ‘l’imagination des matières,’ in which certain personality traits were found to correspond to concrete elements in a kind of psychoanalysis of the material world”. This idea arrives in La Pointe Courte as the characters' personality traits clash, shown through the opposition of objects such as wood and steel. To further her interest in character abstraction Varda used two professional actors, Silvia Monfort and Philippe Noiret combined with the residents of La Pointe Courte to provide a realistic element that lends itself to a documentary aesthetic, inspired by Neo-realism. Varda would continue to use this combination of fictional and documentary elements in her films.[15]

Cléo from 5 to 7

Following La Pointe Courte, Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961) follows a pop singer through two extraordinary hours in which she awaits the results of a recent biopsy. At first glance, the film is about a woman coming to terms with her mortality, which is a common auteurist trait for Agnès Varda.[16] On a deeper level, Cléo from 5 to 7 confronts the traditionally objectified woman by giving Cleo her own vision. She is unable to be constructed through gaze of others which is often represented through a motif of reflections and Cleo’s ability to strip her body of to-be-looked-at-ness attributes (clothing items, wigs, etc.). Stylistically, Cléo from 5 to 7 borders documentary and fiction as La Pointe Courte had. Although many believe that the ninety-minute film represents the diegetic action, which occurs between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., in real time, there is actually a half-hour difference.[15]


In 1984, Varda created Sans toit ni loi, or Vagabond in English, which is a drama about the death of a young female drifter named Mona. The death is investigated by an unseen and unheard interviewer who focuses on the people who have last seen her. The story of Vagabond is told through nonlinear techniques, with the film being divided into forty-seven episodes, and each episode about Mona being told from a different person's perspective. Vagabond is considered to be one of Agnès Varda's greater feminist works in how the film deals with the de-fetishization of the female body from the male perspective.[17]

Jacquot de Nantes

Varda was married to the film director Jacques Demy from 1962 until his death in 1990, with whom she had one child, actor Mathieu Demy. Jacques Demy also legally adopted Rosalie Varda, Varda's daughter from a previous union with actor Antoine Bourseiller, who starred in her early film Cléo from 5 to 7. In 1991, Shortly before Jacques Demy's death, Agnès Varda created the film Jacquot de Nantes, which is about his life and death. The film is structured at first as being a recreation of his early life, being obsessed with the various crafts used for filmmaking like animation and set design. But then Varda provides elements of documentary by inserting clips of Demy's films as well as footage of him dying. The film continues with Varda's common theme of accepting death, but at its heart it is considered to be Varda's tribute to her late husband and their work.[16]

The Gleaners and I

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse, or The Gleaners and I, is a documentary made in 2000 that focuses on Varda's interactions with gleaners who live in the French countryside, but also includes subjects who create art through recycled material, as well as an interview with psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche. The Gleaners and I is notable for its fragmented and free-form nature along with it being the first time Varda used digital cameras. This style of filmmaking is often interpreted as a statement that great things like art can still be created through scraps, yet modern economies encourage people to only use the finest product.[18]

Awards and honors

  • For the 1985 documentary-style feature film Vagabond/Without Roof or Rule she received the Golden Lion of the Venice Film Festival.
  • In 2002 Agnès Varda was the recipient of the prestigious French Academy prize, René Clair Award.[19]
  • On 4 March 2007, she was appointed a Grand Officer of the National Order of Merit of France.[20]
  • In 2009 The Beaches of Agnès won the best documentary film of the César Award.[21]
  • On 12 April 2009, she was made Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur.[22]
  • In May 2010 Varda received Directors' Fortnight's 8th Carosse d'Or award for lifetime achievement at the Cannes Film Festival.[23]
  • On 22 September 2012, Varda received an honorary degree from Liège University Belgium.[1]
  • On 14 May 2013, Varda was promoted to Grand Cross of the National Order of Merit of France.[20]
  • On 22 May 2013, Varda received the 2013 FIAF Award for her work in the field of film preservation and restoration.[24]
  • On 10 August 2014, Varda received the Leopard of Honour award at the 67th [25] She was the second female to receive the award after Kira Muratova.[26]
  • On 13 December 2014, Varda received the honorary Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the European Film Academy.[27]
  • On 24 May 2015, Varda received an honorary Palme d'or. She is the first woman to receive an honorary Palme d'or.[28]


Agnès Varda speaking at a retrospective series at the Harvard Film Archive

Feature film

Year Original title English title Credits
1955 La Pointe Courte Director, Writer
1962 Cléo de 5 à 7 Cléo from 5 to 7 Director, Writer
1965 Le Bonheur Happiness Director, Writer
1966 Les Créatures The Creatures Director, Writer
1967 Loin du Vietnam Far from Vietnam Co-Director
1969 Lions Love Lions Love Director, Writer, Producer
1975 Daguerréotypes Director, Writer
1977 L'Une chante, l'autre pas One Sings, the Other Doesn't Director, Writer
1981 Mur murs - Director, Writer
1980–1981 Documenteur Documenteur Director, Writer
1985 Sans toit ni loi Vagabond Director, Writer, Editor
1986–1987 Jane B. par Agnès V. Jane B. by Agnes V. Director, Writer, Editor
1987 Kung-Fu Master Kung-Fu Master! / Le Petit amour Director, Writer
1991 Jacquot de Nantes Director, Writer
1993 Les demoiselles ont eu 25 ans The Young Girls Turn 25 Director, Writer
1994 Les Cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma A Hundred and One Nights Director, Writer
2000 Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse The Gleaners and I Director, Writer, Producer, Editor
2002 Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse... deux ans après The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later Director, Editor
2004 Cinévardaphoto - Director, Writer
2006 Quelques veuves de Noirmoutier - Director, Writer
2008 Les plages d'Agnès The Beaches of Agnès Director, Writer, Producer

Short film

Year Original title English title Credits
1958 L'opera-mouffe Diary of a Pregnant Woman Director, Writer
1958 La cocotte d'azur - Director, Writer
1958 Du côté de la côte - Director, Writer
1958 O saisons, ô châteaux - Director, Writer
1961 Les fiancés du pont Mac Donald ou (Méfiez-vous des lunettes noires) - Director, Writer
1963 Salut les cubains - Director, Star
1965 Elsa la rose - Director, Writer
1967 Oncle Yanco - Director, Writer, Star
1968 Black Panters Huey Director
1975 Réponse de femmes: Notre corps, notre sexe Women Reply Director, Writer, Star
1976 Plaisir d'amour en Iran - Director, Writer
1984 Les dites cariatides The So-Called Caryatids Director, Writer, Star
1984 7p. cuis., s. de b., ... à saisir - Director, Writer
1986 T’as de beaux escaliers, tu sais You’ve Got Beautiful Stairs, You Know Director, Writer
1982 Ulysse - Director, Writer, Star
2003 Le lion volatil - Director, Writer
2004 Ydessa, les ours et etc. Ydessa, the Bears and etc. Director, Writer
2004 Der Viennale '04-Trailer - Director, Writer, Star
2005 Les dites cariatides bis - Director, Writer
2005 Cléo de 5 à 7: souvenirs et anecdotes - Director
2015 Les 3 Butons The Three Buttons Director, Writer


Year Original title English title Credits
1970 Nausicaa (TV movie) - Writer, Director
1983 Une minute pour une image (TV series Documentary) - Director
2010 P.O.V., episode 3, season 23, "The Beaches of Agnes" - Director, Writer, Producer, Cinematographer
2011 Agnès de ci de là Varda, 5 episodes (TV series documentary) - Director, Writer, Star


  • Les Plages d'Agnès Texte Illustre (2010)
  • 4 by Agnès Varda: Essays (2007)
  • Agnès Varda, l'île et elle, Actes sud (2006)
  • Sans toit ni loi un film d'Agnès Varda (2003)
  • La marginalité à l'écran (1999)
  • Varda par Agnès (1994)
  • La Côte d'Azur, d'azur, d'azur, d'azur (1961)

Further reading

  • How Agnès Varda "invented" the New Wave by Ginette Vincendeau, Four by Agnes Varda, Criterion, 2008
  • Smith, Alison. Agnès Varda Manchester University Press, 1998. Pg 3.
  • Neupert, Richard. A History of the French New Wave Cinema. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin. 2007. Pg 57.


  1. ^ a b See: Agnès Varda Faculty Page @ European Graduate School
  2. ^ Vincendeau, Ginette (January 21, 2008). How Agnès Varda “Invented” the New Wave"La Pointe Courte:". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "AGNÈS VARDA - BIOGRAPHY". Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  5. ^ Carter, Helen. "Agnes Varda". Sense of Cinema. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Smith, Alison. Agnes Varda Manchester University Press, 1998. Pg 3.
  7. ^ Heti, Shiela. "Agnès Varda [FILMMAKER]". Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Carter, Helen. "Agnes Varda". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Agnès Varda in Californialand". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Smith, Alison (Jul 15, 1998). Agnes Varda. Manchester University Press. p. 12. 
  11. ^ Gorbman, Claudia. "Places and Play in Agnès Varda's Cinécriture". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  12. ^ Smith, Alison (Jul 15, 1998). Agnes Varda. Manchester University Press. p. 13. 
  13. ^ Smith, Alison (Jul 15, 1998). Agnes Varda. Manchester University Press. p. 15. 
  14. ^ Neupert, Richard. A History of the French New Wave Cinema University of Wisconsin Press, 2007. Pg. 57.
  15. ^ a b Fitterman-Lewis, To Desire Differently,Columbia University Press, 1996, pp. 215-245.
  16. ^ a b Wilson, Emma. "3. Mourning Films I." French Cinema since 1950: Personal Histories. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999. 42-46. Print. 8-June-2012
  17. ^ Hayward, Susan. "Beyond the Gaze and Into Femme-Filmécriture." French Film: Texts and Contexts. By Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau. London: Routledge, 2000. 269-80. Print. 8-June-2012
  18. ^ Cruickshank, Ruth "The Work of Art in the Age of Global Consumption: Varda's Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse." L'esprit Créateur 47.3, (2007): pg. 119-132 Project MUSE. Web. 8-June-2012
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b Grand Chancellery of the Legion of Honour
  21. ^
  22. ^ [2]
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Llanos Martinez, Hector. "Agnès Varda • Director". Retrieved 26 September 2014. 
  26. ^ Del Don, Georgia. "The Leopard of Honour at the Locarno Film Festival will this year celebrate the great Agnès Varda". Retrieved 26 September 2014. 
  27. ^ "EFA honours Agnès Varda". Cineuropa. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  28. ^ "A Palme d’honneur to Agnès Varda". Retrieved 9 May 2015. 

External links

  • Agnès Varda at the Internet Movie Database
  • Agnès Varda Faculty Page @ European Graduate School Biography, bibliography, films and quotes.
  • Watch 17 films of Agnes Varda at
  • Biography on
  • Ciné-Tamaris
  • 'Film of the Month')Sight & Sound (The Beaches of AgnèsJonathan Romney,
  • 2009, (Frieze Foundation Talks)"A Talk: Agnès Varda ,"
  • Agnès Varda talks about cinema and her work
  • Agnès Varda describes her work on YouTube beyond the screen to the gallery and museum.
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