The 33-year-old sunglass-clad photographer and muralist JR and 90-year-old Varda make for an odd couple on paper. But their relationship has such tangible warmth. They tease each other, look after each other and feed each other’s creativity.
It’s such a heartening friendship that just seeps from the screen.
“You’re playing the wise grandma”
Their main mode of transport is a van that’s been decked out like a giant camera. They speak to local people about their stories, their lives, what it’s like living where they do. These people are then invited to go into the photo booth in the van to have their black and white portraits taken. The images are printed out of the side of the van like a giant Polaroid.
We get to see people’s faces light up as they see their images come out of the van on huge sheets. They are so proud to be taking part in something beautiful and important. Perhaps they’ve never seen such a nice picture of themselves and it made them feel special.
From playful youth to elderly wrinkle, they are all precious human persons are worthy of really being seen.
There’s a subtle message about the importance of art and how it can reflect humanity and self-expression back at us. It’s also about the impact that art can have on communities. One project at a factory makes people feel more connected to those on the opposite shift pattern who they never work with.
In one memorable scene, JR pushes Varda around the Louvre in a wheelchair. He doesn’t just gently stroll though, he hurtles at top speed. He leaps over chairs, swerves, and runs. Such glee and abandon in a place normally reserved for quiet and serious appreciation.
It makes us wonder why we are so quiet and reverent around art when it is to be deeply enjoyed. Apart from the risk of knocking into something or someone why can’t we exclaim, point, run and otherwise express ourselves around art.
This film shows the exploration of France itself and its different landscapes and communities. Farmers, pit workers, dock workers, the jobless and the supporters all get to show something of their stories and lives.
The buildings and structures they create the murals on are as diverse as the people they photograph. Some are crumbling. Some rough and rugged. Some stoically still standing while others are worn away.
As to be expected from Varda and JR, the style of the whole film is steeped in precise composition. Barely have you admired one scene when it moves on to the next display. Their activities are punctuated by moments of discussion facing away from the camera. These are intimate moments but ones that invite the audience to join them in gazing upon a vista, almost participating in the conversation with them.
One particular scene at a graveyard takes on an extra poignancy following Varda’s death in March 2019. The pair visits the graves of photographers Martine and Henri Cartier-Bresson and lay stones as a mark of respect. JR asks if Varda is afraid of death. She says she’s actually looking forward to death “because that’ll be that”.
Rest in peace Agnes.
Hi, I'm Caz. I live in Edinburgh and I watch a lot of films. My reviews focus mainly on women in film - female directors or how women are represented on screen.