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Agnès Varda and the Singular Feminine

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Abstract

After her passing in 2019, French director Agnès Varda left a pioneering, deeply personal oeuvre. Her connections and collaborations had always influenced her work: her marriage to Jacques Demy, her status as “mother” of the French New Wave, her co-directorship with artist JR. The personal reflections in her final documentaries, particularly The Beaches of Agnès (2008) and her final film Varda par Agnès (2019) invite new consideration of these sometimes friendly, sometimes fraught relationships between Varda and the men who made films around and alongside her. In undertaking this reconsideration, this essay poses broader questions about Varda’s legacy and examines what both film studies and popular cinephilia can learn from her singular, feminine approach to screen art.

Keywords

  • French New Wave
  • Autobiography
  • Documentary
  • Memory
  • Agency

The title of this essay riffs on the ingenious title of Geneviève Sellier’s monograph La Nouvelle Vague: Un cinéma au masculin singulier (2005), which was rearranged for its English translation, to reduced effect, as Masculine Singular: French New Wave Cinema (trans. Kristin Ross, 2008).

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-56100-0_2
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Fig. 2.1
Fig. 2.2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Several interviews featuring one or both variants appear in Kline, T. Jefferson. 2014. Agnès Varda: Interviews. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press. If this collection serves as an accurate indication, the “grandmother of the New Wave” designation began to circulate sometime in the 1990s; within the collection, it first appears in Varda’s interview with Carol Allen (pp. 160–172 in Klein’s volume), which originally appeared in 1996, and then again with Melissa Anderson in 2001 (pp. 173–182).

  2. 2.

    Kennedy-Karpat, Colleen. 2016. Review of Agnès Varda: Interviews, edited by T. Jefferson Kline. Journal of Popular Film and Television 44.1: 61–62, p. 62.

  3. 3.

    DeRoo, Rebecca J. 2018. Agnès Varda: Between Film, Photography, and Art. Oakland: University of California Press, p. 17.

  4. 4.

    Conway, Kelley. 2019. Visages Villages: Documenting Creative Collaboration. Studies in French Cinema 19.1: 22–39, p. 32.

  5. 5.

    King, Homay. 2015. Virtual Memory: Time-Based Art and the Dream of Digitality. Durham: Duke University Press, p. 92.

  6. 6.

    King, Homay. 2015. Virtual Memory: Time-Based Art and the Dream of Digitality. Durham: Duke University Press, p. 92.

  7. 7.

    Conway, Kelley. 2019. Visages Villages: Documenting Creative Collaboration. Studies in French Cinema 19.1: 22–39, p. 33.

  8. 8.

    JR. 2019. ‘She Was Always in the Present’: Artist JR on the Films and Friendship of Agnès Varda. Time, 4 April.

  9. 9.

    Nelson, Max. 2020. The Intimate and the Collective: A deep dive into Agnès Varda’s cinematic archive. The Nation, 23 January.

  10. 10.

    King, Homay. 2015. Virtual Memory: Time-Based Art and the Dream of Digitality. Durham: Duke University Press, p. 92.

  11. 11.

    Staiger, Janet. 2003. Authorship Approaches. In Authorship and Film, ed. David A. Gerstner and Janet Staiger, 27–57. New York: Routledge, pp. 49–51.

  12. 12.

    Shambu, Girish. 2019. For a New Cinephilia. Film Quarterly 72.3: 32–34, p. 32.

  13. 13.

    Shambu, Girish. 2019. For a New Cinephilia. Film Quarterly 72.3: 32–34, p. 33.

  14. 14.

    Sarratia, Géraldine. 2019. Agnès Varda: ‘Plus je vieillis plus on me recompense, mais tant de réalisatrices ont du talent.’ Nova.fr, 25 January. Translation to English is the author’s; Varda’s comment in its original French reads as follows: “Je pense que ça doit agacer beaucoup de jeunes femmes que je ne sois pas encore morte et que je fasse encore des films, qu’on parle encore de moi, que je reçoive des prix partout. Plus je vieillis, plus on me donne des prix. Je vais pas dire non, les gens sont gentils, ils m’offrent des choses. Mais je trouve que je prends un peu trop la lumière alors qu’il y a beaucoup de jeunes femmes qui ont du talent.”

References

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  • Sellier, Geneviève. 2005. La Nouvelle Vague: Un cinéma au masculin singulier. Paris: CNRS. English edition: Sellier, Geneviève. 2008. Masculine Singular: French New Wave Cinema (trans. Ross, Kristin). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

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Filmography

Directed by Agnès Varda

  • Agnès de ci de là Varda [Agnès Varda from Here to There]. 2014; iTunes, 2019.

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  • The Beaches of Agnes. 2008; iTunes, 2019.

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  • Le Bonheur. 1965; The Criterion Collection, 4 by Agnès Varda, 2007. DVD.

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  • Cléo de 5 à 7. 1962; The Criterion Collection, 4 by Agnès Varda, 2007. DVD.

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  • Les Créatures. 1966.

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  • Documenteur. 1981; The Criterion Collection, Eclipse Series 43: Agnès Varda in California, 2015. DVD.

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  • Les Fiancés du Pont Macdonald. 1962; The Criterion Collection, 4 by Agnès Varda, 2007. DVD.

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  • The Gleaners and I. 2000; New York, NY: Zeitgeist Video, 2002. DVD.

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  • Jacquot de Nantes. 1990.

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  • Loin du Vietnam. 1968.

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  • La Pointe Courte. 1955; The Criterion Collection, 4 by Agnès Varda, 2007. DVD.

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  • Varda par Agnès. 2019; screened 27 April 2019 at Büyülü Fener, Ankara, Turkey.

    Google Scholar 

  • Visages Villages [Faces Places]. 2017; screened 6 December 2017, Gezici Festival / Festival on Wheels, Çagdas Sanatlar Merkezi, Ankara, Turkey.

    Google Scholar 

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Correspondence to Colleen Kennedy-Karpat .

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Kennedy-Karpat, C. (2020). Agnès Varda and the Singular Feminine. In: Sezen, D., Çiçekoğlu, F., Tunç, A., Thwaites Diken, E. (eds) Female Agencies and Subjectivities in Film and Television. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56100-0_2

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