Les Plages d'Agnès Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda is one of the lesser-known of the front-rank French new wavers; she’s marginalized for being a woman but is as important as any of her more famous contemporaries.

This docu-fantasy has her reflecting on her long life and career, a series of memories at once joyous and melancholy. The director is front and centre in her return to the scenes of the crimes: the Belgian beaches of her youth, the Paris cinephilia that forged her sensibility, her marriage to Jacques Demy, her careen through Hollywood (where she scotched a deal by slapping a male producer), and the upheavals of the ’60s, with stops in Communist China and feminist activism.

Varda’s life has been rich and vibrant but full of disappointments — a special sadness is reserved for Demy’s death from AIDS in 1989, when the disease was taboo and the director was shunned. Still, the tone is at all times whimsical, with camera-shy Chris Marker replaced by one of his beloved cat cartoons and a thrift-store fantasy infusing the proceedings.

Varda comes off at once self-effacing and defiant; she’s not about to bully you with a program but her quiet adamance speaks eloquently to a personality that never says die. Her film is a sweet testimony to someone who’s made it through the wars, melancholy but intact, standing at the end of her life and reflecting on what it all meant, if it meant anything at all.

Gentle though it may be, it’s a titanic undertaking of remembrance that beggars the objectives of more head-splitting directors without having more ambition than to mark the passage between where Varda was and where she is now. (Seville)