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Agnès Varda - La glaneuse of memories

Agnès Varda - La glaneuse of memories

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“If I had seen the master works, I would be too intimidated to make films,” says Agnès Varda, this year's recipient of the Pardo d'onore Swisscom. A renowned photographer, filmmaker and visual artist, author of such masterpieces as Cléo de 5 à 7, Le bonheur and Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, Varda turns out to be remarkably unpretentious, stating bluntly that she had no knowledge of French or American cinema when she began shooting films. “I would even have to make up my own names for particular shots,” she banters, charming her audience instantly: “an Egyptian shot” for people sitting, their hands on top of their thighs, and simply “face” instead of “close-up”. She would also come up with unusual practical solutions, like drawing a 90-metre long electric cable from her house to the set of Daguerréotypes where no electricity was available.

And yet, though not a cinephile and a woman, she distinguished herself by pioneering the French new wave stylistically, prompting the media to dub her the “grandmother of La Nouvelle Vague”. She has several issues with that: she always felt completely different from the critics-turned-filmmakers of Cahiers du cinéma, and she likes the category of woman filmmakers even less. “I try to make experimental films, not women's films,” she explains. “Are my films watched mostly by women? Maybe. But they are also watched by a lot of young people, old people, people with funny hair,” she quips. “I've always been feminist in spirit, in my mind,” she explains, but remains staunchly second-wave: with her films, she was trying to make a point about relationships, a point which has nothing to do with feminism. “My life as a feminist is related to facts – marching for women's right to birth control, the right to an abortion.”

A phone rings and interrupts the conversation. It's hers. She switches it off, “although it's a nice tune.” She talks about the things she loves – Degas, Prévert, the pleasure of watching a film on the big screen together with other people, potatoes, dancing skeletons and laughing at death, cats in general and leopards especially. “I love the clip of the leopard walking across the screen. I've never seen such a beautiful intro, not even the Cannes stairs. This is better.” Most of all, she loves the people around her, crediting their generosity for her success, for her artistic achievement – even the critics and the reviewers. She tells a story about a critic who has read into the 90-meter long electrical cable, seeing it as an umbilical cord, symbolising Varda's inability to tear herself away from her newborn son during the making of Daguerréotypes. “They think of things I never thought about. It teaches you something new about yourself,” she adds modestly.

And then, there is the passage of time and Les plages d'Agnès, which for her was like diving into the past. “I like the idea of a living person transforming into a skeleton. It's very normal; the people we love are made of bones. I think the passing is beautiful.” And yet, she won't allow herself to be pressed for time at this particular moment: “Only five minutes left? I'd like to stay longer!” She wonders out loud what could be happening at Spazio cinema afterwards, pressing them to end the conversation so abruptly. “That's not how life is!”

Tina Poglajen
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