Two artists from different generations act as muses for their respective arts in the French documentary Faces Places (Visages, villages).
Agnès Varda, with no signs of slowing down at age 89, directs with her subject JR supplying the kind of mysterious vibes that remind her of her friendship with Godard in the 1960s. Neither would remove their sunglasses for the camera.
Varda has helmed classics of French cinema like the real time Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) to One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977) with occasional forays into documentary filmmaking like The Beaches of Agnes (2008) and now Faces Places. Varda was married to Jacques Demy, himself a noted French director, who passed in 1990. Varda just picked up an honorary Oscar® in November 2017 as part of the Governor’s Awards, a segment of the upcoming March 4, 2018 Academy Awards.
JR, the nom de plum of French photographer Jean René, has a souped-up van decorated like a camera that can print large images. In other words, a pleasure mobile with a built-in linotronic imagesetter capable of printing high-resolution wall-sized versions of his photos.
One of JR’s typical performances has him driving up to a location and taking photos of random people and then printing and pasting the larger than life headshots on a stonewall. Varda and JR feed off each other, using the landscape to accentuate their ideas.
This results in a photograph of a reclining woman blown-up and pasted on a huge rock, itself a portion of a cliff that has crumbled and lies on the beach. The tide washes in the next week and obliterates the image. It’s like the concept of samsara where you create the art and immediately destroy it, like a monk making mandala sand art.
[Reader Joe Bailey, Jr. sent the following missive: “As I remember the reclining subject on the oceanside rock in Normandy was actually one of the director’s male friends she was wanting to pay tribute to. (Incredibly, the stone and concrete canvas was actually a Nazi bunker that had been precipitously hanging over the beach, before the city had it ejected from its perch to land askance on the shore.). Second, to your point on the profound transience of certain art, it was washed away by the tide and wind and sand not that week, but that *night*—though they were luckily able to preserve it in the doc.]
Another stop on their journey has JR photographing a farmer and then enlarging his likeness so large it covers the front side of his barn.
So much of Faces Places rightfully makes the viewer feel like they’re watching a combination travelogue and existential journey through the heartland. In the end, the question is whether Varda will get JR to remove his shades.
Faces Places unwinds at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from Thursday, Jan. 4 through Sunday, Jan. 7. Click here for times and film facts.
The Houston Film Critics Society presents its 11th annual awards ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 6. Highlights of this year’s presentation includes the TIFA (Texas Independent Film Award) chosen from the best regionally produced movies in the last year; regular accolades to mainstream films including The Shape of Water with seven noms and Lady Bird with five, and a silent auction that includes some rare posters and film books in addition to a dinner for four with Jonathan Sandys, the great-grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.
This year’s humanitarian award will be presented to Jim “Mac” McIngvale. In addition to his philanthropic actions during last year’s hurricane, Mac also produced the 1992 Chuck Norris actioner Sidekicks.
The 11th Annual Houston Film Critic Society’s Movie Awards takes place at Match (3400 Main Street), this Saturday at 7:30 pm. Click here for ticket and ceremony specifics.