Agnes Warda: Madame Cinema

Agnes Warda is 90 years old. We congratulate one of the most effective ladies of world cinema with the memoir of Andrei Plakhov, who talks about his meetings with Agnes and devotes her poems. The Russian premiere of Vard’s new film “Faces, Villages” will be held on June 1 in the framework of the Beat festival.

Agnes Warda: Madame Cinema

Agnes Warda in childhood

Agnes Varda was also called the first swallow, and the pioneer, and even the grandmother of the “new wave.” As a result, she was among her two long-livers. Apart from Godard, who met this ninetieth birthday this spring, Warda experienced all the main figures of the tumultuous current of the middle of the last century – Alain René and Jacques Rivette, Eric Romer and Claude Chabrol … Not to mention the early departed life of Francois Truffaut and Jacques Demi, husband Agnes, the creator of the “Cherbourg umbrellas” and “Girls from Rochefort”.

With his death, the mystery is related, first published in Ward’s film “Beaches of Agnes”: Demi died not from cancer and not from cerebral hemorrhage, as previously officially reported, but from AIDS. Varda says that at that time (it was in 1990), AIDS was considered a shameful disease, although it does not comment on the leaked rumors that Demi, having found himself in the US at the height of the sexual revolution, had same-sex connections. Much unsaid and in the mystery of the death of Jim Morrison: Warda was close to him, according to some sources, she and his civil wife Pamela Courson are the only witnesses to his departure.

Agnes Warda: Madame CinemaAgnes Warda and Jim Morrison

In the film, there are many other interesting subjects. For example, as Demi, who was invited to work in America, wanted to remove Anouk Emma as young partner of Harrison Ford, but the studio bosses said he was hopelessly talentless. Agnes Varda started as a photographer and documentary, shot famous people and was friends with them: among them Gerard Philip, Jean Vilar, Natalie Sarroth, Andy Warhol.

It was Warda who helped find Catherine Deneuve an image for her role in the “Cherbourg umbrellas” that turned her career. Agnes combed the hair of Catherine (in the fashion of those years – under Brigitte Bardot), and laid them on the “babetta” and scattered them on the shoulders. Becoming a star, Deneuve willingly starred in Ward in the film “Creations” and even took over part of the cost. But the film did not find a response: a typical for the “new wave” reflection on the dominance of mass culture led the director too far along the path of destruction of dramatic structures. But this is one of the first pictures, where the mechanism for fabricating virtual reality is foreseen.

Having many friends in the artistic and bohemian environment, just with the “new wave” figures, Varda stayed at a distance. She did not belong to the breed of cinephiles – “sinematechnyh rats”, her temperament was different, more spontaneous. And although Andre Bazin, the patron of the “wave”, recommended Cannes for her debut band “Pointe Curt”, Varda did not enter the “sacred circle”, choosing her own way, taking responsibility for both luck and mistakes.

Agnes Warda: Madame Cinema«Creations». Dir. Agnes Warda. 1966

1962 is the year of her triumph: everyone speaks of the movie “Cleo from 5 to 7” as a model of a new cinema dominated by the image, not the word, and the movement of the camera is close to the rhythm of human breathing. However, the following tape “Happiness” sharply shares the fans and opponents. The hero of the picture, a loving husband and father, meets another woman and tries to explain to the wife that two women mean more happiness for him than one. But the dumb wife is drowning in the river, and her place is taken by another. According to the director, the film’s idea was based on one beautiful family photo: “Visibility of happiness is also happiness.”

The success of this film and the commercial failure of the “Creatures” discarded Ward from the big projects. She continued to work in the genre of documentary essays, studying the life of fishing villages and country castles, socialist China, the Cuban revolution, the hippies, the “Black Panthers” … Once in America, she shot Andy Warhol and his star Vivu, and years later – Angela Davis. Even one-minute miniatures and custom-made tapes she prepared with utmost care. Freedom, subjectivity, perpetual motion are the key words by which critics define the work of Agnes Ward. Her natural cinematic instinct was said: “She uses one hand to shoot the other.” Another key word is feminism: Varda never put him forward as a weapon, but internally was true to the feminist view of the world.

Agnes Warda: Madame CinemaAgnes Warda and Jacques Demi

Thanks to the triumph in Venice of the movie “Without Hoods and Outlaws”, Varda returned to the big cinema. In this film about the vagabond girl, whom young Sandrine Bonner played with dramatic drama, a strong plot joined with an equally strong author’s beginning, sociality – with existentiality. Now Agnes was already difficult to knock out of the saddle. She founded her own “family” company “Sine Tamaris”, with her daughter Rosalie Warda and son Mathieu Demi.

All of them participate in the film “Beaches of Agnes”, the leitmotifs of which are reflections and mirrors, as well as seaside beaches. Varda settles on the beach on some eastern couch, tries on funny clothes, young people place around the mirror, and all this together is a captivating installation of happiness, in which the ideal balance between reality and art is maintained. What the “new wave” has entered the history of cinematography.

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For my generation of film critics, Warda was the same legend as Truffaut with Godard. And suddenly the legend appeared in Moscow – as part of a large delegation of cinematographers who came to the Week of author’s cinema in France. This landing was headed by Bertrand Tavernier, important and often angry. I remember how he chided Mikhail Yampolsky for asking at a press conference why the author’s French cinema of the 1980s was covered with a layer of aesthetic lacquer that interferes with contact with the screen. The tavern was jammed: “What kind of lacquer you say, our films conquer the world!” On the contrary, the completely indifferent to what was happening was demonstrated by a very young Leos Karaks: he did not communicate with anyone and constantly smoked, huddled in a corner. The soul of the company was Agnes and her then muse Jane Birkin, to whom she dedicated the film “Jane B. with the eyes of Agnes V.” – a gentle cinematic declaration of love. Two women walked around Moscow, trying to understand what “Perestroika” is: it was the very height of it.

Agnes Warda: Madame Cinema“Jane B. with the eyes of Agnes V.” Dir. Agnes Warda. 1988

We became friends, and a few months later I was invited to lecture in France. Agnes planned to introduce me to Catherine Deneuve, whom I was writing at the time, at the “Cesar” awards ceremony. But just for this evening the first lecture was assigned, and the meeting did not take place. Probably to comfort, Agnes called me to her house for breakfast – real French, with croissants, which we dipped in large cups with “cafe ole”, and crumbs scattered all over the table. “When people share food, it brings together like nothing else,” said the hostess. It seems that we really got closer: we spent a whole day together, and in the evening we went to Creteil to a women’s cinema festival, where Agnes Warda and Jane Birkin were honored as the main stars.

Soon Jacques Demi died, Agnes as a born documentalist filmed his departure from life day after day. With the dedication to the late wife “Jaco from Nantes” she came to the Moscow festival, and four years later she returned again – with the film “One and One Nights”. Varda has participated in this grandiose skits for the 100th anniversary of the invention of cinema not only by French stars, but also by important overseas guests like Robert de Niro. All of them were shot in short episodes-sketches practically for free – to the glory of cinema. All of them – and Alain Delon and Marcello Mastroianni, and Jeanne Moreau, and Gerard Depardieu, and Hannah Shigula – come to visit the century-old Mr. Simon Cinema, who is recklessly and slyly played by Michel Piccoli. The old man is a little sick, he has seizures every now and then, but more often he pretends. In fact, he still at least somewhere: he loves to eat and drink, wants to priudarit for Catherine Deneuve. Which, appearing in the castle of Mr. Cinema, prefers to retire with De Niro.

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Alas, the last two visits of Agnes to Moscow cooled our relations. Why – you will understand, reading her letter to the then leaders of the Moscow International Film Festival.

Sergei Solovyov and Alexander Atanesyan:

“I’m not lucky with the Moscow festival. In 1991, my film “Jacquot from Nantes” was invited for the closing evening. But it was at the moment of the beginning of the film that a banquet was organized, which, of course, was preferred by everyone except the cinephiles. I decided not to return to the Moscow Festival, and I should have followed this decision. But you wrote me a few letters with apologies for the past and with the invitation to my movie “One and One Nights” to open the current festival. I came for three days, and you did not find an opportunity to meet with me, and during the demonstration of my film a banquet was again arranged, to which I was not invited. There was no information about my film, and I almost had to force the head of the press center of Mr. Tsirlin to organize a press screening and a small press conference. Fortunately, Naum Kleiman at the Cinema Museum gave me a real treat. You should come there and see the public of my paintings. As for the official services of the Moscow festival, they do not know anything and do not know how to accept their guests. “

Agnes Warda

I do not know if Solovyov and Atanesian read this letter, which I published in the newspaper Kommersant. I know that the anger of the temperamental Agnes hit me when she saw the empty hall watching her film: everyone was really in a hurry to the banquet. None of the leaders of the festival in the hall was not, and although I had not the slightest relation to the drama of the evening (and even warned the organizers that it was impossible to combine cinema with a banquet), it turned out to be a scapegoat.

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Our last meeting took place in Venice, on the beach of Excelsior Hotel.

– Why did you decide to make a film about yourself?

– I’m a documentary with experience, I’m interested in people, and I know how to shoot them. But then I decided to make a film about myself. I do not think that from immodesty. Much of the picture is dedicated to other people who have gone through my life. I realize that my destiny does not contain anything particularly dramatic, I did not survive what people experienced, for example, in Russia. Or in Georgia. Inspired by the words from Montaigne’s Essays: “I dedicated my book to a narrow circle of relatives and friends; in the end they will lose me, but in return they will find out something of my features and moods that will allow them to preserve and multiply what they knew about me. “

– Have not your previous films been personal? For example, “Cleo from 5 to 7?”

– I doubt it. I was never a tall blonde, like the heroine of this picture.

– And why “Beaches”? A tribute to the memory of Jacques Demi, whose life and work are connected with the seaside cities – Nantes, Cherbourg, Rochefort?

– The idea to make this personal film came to me on the beach in Noirmoutier: I grew up on the beach in Belgium, and the seascapes accompanied me all my life. The shore of the sea reflects the state of mind.

Agnes Warda: Madame Cinema

– The film very briefly talks about your parents …

– My father was an emigrant from Greece and hated to remember his homeland. I saw my grandfather and grandmother only twice. But with my grandchildren communicate more often.

– The theme of memory often appears in your picture …

– I would say that the theme of the film is the fear of losing memory, which visits us at a certain age. How wonderful it is to remember!

– You were involved with radical movements. Wanted to change the world?

– I never wanted to change the world. I wanted to express my disagreement with him. And in the feminist movement, I was not ahead of everyone. But I managed to raise the level of “female cinema”.

– In France, did you have any like-minded people? What are your relations with the “new wave”?

“I was friends with Godard and Rivette, with the rest – no. But this only concerned personal relationships, not creativity. It was a group of Cahiers du Cinema, they had a group code – like the Dadaists. Renee and Marker existed separately. And I was all alone – until I met Jacques Demi. The structures of my films were completely different than those who were part of the group, and Jacques too.

– What did the experience of working in the USA mean for both of you? Were not you disappointed?

– Demi worked for a big studio, and I did independent films. We fell in love with Los Angeles. It was a time of aspiration for freedom: everyone smoked artfully, committed sexual experiments, brought up children together in communes. But we were not going to stay in the US from the very beginning. And when they returned to France in 1970, the revolution was almost over.

– And Jim Morrison died. Why do you talk so stupidly about him?

“Jim clung to us with Jacques as the pioneers of the” new wave. ” He himself came to us after the concert. Then I regretted, but then I did not even dare to take pictures of him, because I protected his privacy. Similarly, I have never photographed Natalie Sarroth.

– What do you think about modern cinema?

– Do not expect that as a grandmother I’ll start to scold him. Today there is a quality industrial cinema. And there are those who, like the Dardenne brothers, make films with the author’s attitude. I consider them my younger brothers.

– In your picture, magnificent costumes that you willingly change …

“They’re all from my wardrobe: it’s a documentary.” Even the suit “Potato” hangs in my house in the closet.

Agnes Warda: Madame Cinema

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And in my old notebook I wrote a poem dedicated to Agnes Varda.


Together at the cinema, in the full hall,

where the sight was eaten by the eyes

all who came to see the painting “Happiness”

we were full of fate

to each other – and everyone said everything to each other.

We did not say anything to a friend,

no hand reached the hand

another to connect with it,

and the light from the booth penetrated through the faces.

Together at the cinema, in the full hall,

For an hour and a half we lived

Four lives are not a single falsehood.

We hardly dreamed of happiness,

but the thought of it did not become impossible.

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