Faces Places: C'est Merveilleux


A film quite unlike any other, “Faces Places” will steal your heart. A combination of a buddy road trip and a character study, this documentary stars the nearly 90-year-old legendary filmmaker, Agnès Varda, and the photographer and muralist, JR, who is slightly more than one-third her age. This ‘enfant terrible,’ a naughty boy, began his career as a graffiti artist on the streets of Paris. A wonderful team, they delight in each other's company, in the townspeople they meet along the way, and in the creation of their art.

Early in the documentary, Varda explains that she wants to undertake this road trip through France to meet new faces and photograph them, so they won't "fall down the holes in my memory." For a number of years prior to their connecting with one another, JR’s mission has been to travel the world celebrating ordinary people. To that end, he and Agnès tour the French countryside in a van that's equipped as a photo-booth capable of turning out large-format photographs.

On the Road Again

Together, this rambunctious duo explores some of the ancient villages of France, mainly those in the north of the country where Varda had filmed years ago. In this industrial landscape, we find half-empty towns and abandoned factories. Clearly, the ‘rust belt’ has not prospered along with the rest of the country and in these 'places,' the 'faces' of those left behind, those trying to make the best of their situations, will stay with you long after you have left the theater.


In one village, Agnès and JR come across a row of abandoned miners’ houses slated to be torn down. Here they meet a holdout, a miner’s daughter who has refused to move out and leave behind all of her memories. After enticing her into the photo-booth, they produce a gargantuan image of her, which they plaster to the front of her row house, after which they plaster photos of former miners to the empty shells of what had been neighboring homes. The moment when the feisty homeowner sees her bold image on the house is golden: when words fail, when she cannot express all that she feels, all that she has endured, the tears that fall tell a heartfelt story. Naturally, the images bring out the villagers who, in equal measure, are startled and overjoyed at what the filmmakers have wrought.

Here's One for the Ladies! 

When the intrepid twosome reaches the port of Le Havre, it’s not the dockworkers, but three of the wives who receive the star treatment of seeing their oversized images displayed on a grouping of stacked containers sitting on the docks. As one of the workers says: "Art is supposed to surprise you," and in "Faces Places" it does just that, over and over again.   

In the film, Varda wears a two-tone bowl haircut, white on top with a reddish fringe framing her face. Look again at the photo above, that's not a white hat she has on! When asked about it by JR, she says she likes color. On the other hand, JR has his own trademark look; the dark glasses and a black hat that he never removes, not even when dining in a café or racing though the Louvre. (A hilarious segment!) When she asks him why he’s always hiding behind his glasses, he’s not as forthcoming with an answer. She says it reminds her of her friend Jean-Luc Godard, the fabled filmmaker of French New Wave film-making in the '60s. This sets us up for an ending that's enigmatic, upsetting, warm and wonderful. A slice of life.

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Say It Ain't So

The film, with the French title “Visages Villages,” is a triumph. It shows more than it tells. It shows the decency of ordinary people and at the same time offers an engaging peek at the process of artistic creation. If this is Varda's last film, it has to rank as one of her most endearing. Upon leaving the theater, I had an urge to turn around, to go back and see it all over again. It was as if I didn’t want to leave behind all those wonderful faces and rarely photographed places. That, like Agnès, I didn’t want them to slide down a hole in my memory. If you can't find the film in your local theaters, it should be on Netflix within months. Don’t miss it!

What's new?

On another note: as you can see, thanks to my talented web designer, Beth Beauchamp of Beauchamp Artist Services—"Focus on your art. We'll take care of the rest"—my website has had a makeover. So, too, Desperately Seeking Paris. I'm so happy with it, with the freshness and vibrancy. I hope you like it as well. 

We are always interested in making the website more user-friendly, so take a look around, if you will. If there's anything that seems the least bit confusing, let me know. We have changed the COMMENT box which some of you found frustrating, and we do hope that 'Drop a Line' will prove simpler. So, give it a try! And do check out "Faces Places." Merci beaucoup, mes amis... Hope to see you next week, when I'll have the coffee ready...  à bientôt.

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