Agnes Varda on Being "A Star of the Margins"

FACES PLACES  - Still 2  - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Telluride Film Festival

The 'Faces Places' co-director also breaks down her favorite moments from the Oscar-nominated documentary.

The final scene in Agnes Varda and JR’s Faces Places sees the elusive artist JR finally take off his sunglasses, concluding what had been a touchy subject for the two throughout the film.

The moment comes after they set out to visit Varda’s old friend Jean-Luc Godard, whose presence is a running theme of the film, but he stands them up with a tersely scrawled note on his window.

Godard had once famously taken off his sunglasses for Varda; she’d been wanting JR to do the same. The pivotal scene comes at last — with the joke being that the 89-year-old Varda only sees JR as a blur once he finally obliges her.

What she has seen clearly throughout the documentary, however, are the faces of a fading France, and a working class filled with hope, made visible through the filmmaking duo’s portable Polaroid poster maker on wheels.

The film, which plays out like a grand road trip, was shot for one week a month over 18 months (the breaks were needed because of Varda’s health) with some sheer luck — and meticulous location scouting.

“People love it, they feel like there is suddenly a community they are sharing,” says Varda. “And in some villages, people would say, ‘Sometimes we don’t get along, but putting our images together makes it better.’”

In one scene, the two revisit the exact spot on a windy beach where Varda filmed a young Guy Bourdin in 1954. They paste a mural of her photo on an abandoned German bunker, but it’s washed away by the sea before the next dawn.

“We were working with the desire to build something, and knowing it wouldn’t last. It was the most beautiful grave I ever made with [JR] and for my friend Guy,” she says.

Varda, of course, is no stranger to documentaries, as well as being a leader of French New Wave cinema. She received an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in November.

“I’ve been in the margins forever. I’m a star of the margins, if I may say so,” she joked. “The Oscar evening everyone came, and I was just looking at the room: ‘There is Jennifer Lawrence, she makes $4 million, Steven Spielberg, $15 million.’ I was imagining their value, and it was like a sea of money, and I told them, ‘I’ve never made any money. I’m not bankable!’” Winning the Oscar, she joked, would make her price go up.

And as for Godard, who never showed? “I sent him the DVD.”

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.