[Guest blogger: Bill Clark, award-winning Photographer, printmaker, writer, political activist and proud grandfather of four wonderful grandchildren, not to mention their parents, living in Oceanside, North County San Diego, California]
“All beginnings are beautiful,” Agnès Varda, famed French New Wave director (Cléo from 5 to 7), tells JR, a much-admired French photographer, muralist and street artist, who also is her co-director and co-star in the new French documentary, Faces Places (Visages, Villages)
The two artists, although separated by over 50 years of age, take a road trip together through the rural villages of France, including a side trip to the huge port of Le Havre.
Their goal: to make images. Loading JR’s wide-format photos onto his truck, they paste images onto buildings, ship containers, water towers, railroad tank cars—virtually any outdoor space. Guided by Varda’s genius for choosing shooting locations and use of non-professional actors, the two artists memorialize the “ordinary” people they encounter along the way.
Varda and JR discover and celebrate the beautiful in the “ordinary”.For example, the shy young bartender at a local bistro, mother of two, has her full-length portrait pasted on the side of a three-story building, becoming an instant “star” in her village. Her little boy tells her she is beautiful. Similarly, when an elderly woman, the last holdout in a block of row houses scheduled for demolition, sees her face — a proud image of resistance,–covering the entire front of her home, she is moved to tears, speechless.
The genius of Faces Places is the evocative themes of memory and loss, the ephemeral embedded in the permanent. Varda examines the fate of the working class, the meaning of friendship, the impact of mechanization on rural agriculture with a subtle grace and impish directorial hand.
As they travel together, Varda and JR develop a warm caring friendship. She teases him about never taking off his dark glasses (“You see things in the dark”), and he gently helps her with her chronically blurred vision. Faces Places chronicles their visual placements with lyricism and humor, always grounded in the caring portraits of the ordinary people they meet along the way.
The movie ends with a visit to Jean-Luc Godard, the father of the French New Wave cinema, and Varda’s friend (perhaps her lover?) when she was in her 30s, some 50 years earlier. She brings a bag of his favorite brioches.
Faces Places is a true treasure to be seen and cherished.