I had hoped to write more on Agnes Varda and JR’s Visages Villages over the festive period, but things got in the way. Part-travelogue, part-dissection of creativity, Visages Villages is a joyful examination of art and the human spirit, and a worthy addition to Varda’s extensive oeuvre.
The pair are an engaging and likeable couple, and a magnet for strangeness (Fanfan the guard horse is a real contender for 2017s best cameo). As they traverse the underside of France, a space rarely seen on-screen, the pair interact with people from all walks of life. A woman determined to stay in her home, the last of her kind, and factory workers come together to become unlikely subjects for Varda and JR’s often-gigantic artworks, with each sprawled across their sights of inspiration.
Her sight going, thanks to the perils of age, Varda faces her mortality in one of the film’s more serious sojourns. In this respect the film feels like an extension to The Beaches Of Agnes, which at the time seemed like a career-capping epilogue. While there are airs of the same here in Visages Villages it also feels like something of a work that makes a statement of renewed or continued creativity, much in the same way that Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au langage did for that filmmaker. At one point Varda and JR recreate the famous Louvre sequence from Godard’s Bande à part, while there’s a real sense that “All Roads Lead To Godard” in Visages Villages closing stretch, which in turn place the film as something of an apt capper to a period of French cinema that will draw to a close with the death of Varda and Godard, the two surviving members of the Nouvelle Vague. Rather than some morbid lecture on the passing of time it feels more like a glorious celebration of what has gone in the past, and what shapes the future.