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Faces Places (Visages Villages), a film by Agnès Varda and JR

Updated: Sep 13, 2022


Faces Places (Visages Villages) dir. Agnès Varda and JR (89 mins) Trailer

88-year-old filmmaker Agnès Varda and 33-year-old visual artist JR travel around France taking photos of ordinary people they meet by chance—a café waitress, factory workers, the wives of dockworkers, farmers, goats, &c.—and pasting them on walls, train cars, shipping containers. There are emotional moments when subjects view their larger than life images. Some are moved to tears. This is a sweet film that made me feel good even if at the end Varda's long-time friend Jean-Luc Godard turns out to be a rat. She still likes him, she tells JR, but he's a rat.

Varda met the director Jacques Demy (1931–1990) in 1961. They married in 1962 and had a son, Mathieu (b. 1972), who is an actor, director, and producer. Varda also has a daughter, Rosalie (b. 1958), from a previous relationship. Rosalie is a costume designer, writer, actress, and producer of Faces Places.

In 1971 Agnès Varda was a signer of the Manifesto of the 343. Three hundred and forty-three Fench women declared publicly that they had had an abortion, illegal at the time, thus exposing themselves to criminal prosecution, and demanded free access to contraception and the right to have an abortion. The manifesto's text was written by Simone de Beauvoir. Co-signers included Catherine Deneuve, Marguerite Duras, Jeanne Moreau, and Françoise Sagan.

JR is the pseudonym of an artist whose identity remains a mystery. That identity was slightly unveiled at the end of Faces Places, when Agnès Varda finally prevailed upon him to remove his dark glasses and for a moment we saw his face through her blurry vision. JR grew up in a Paris suburb. His parents were from Tunis and eastern Europe. He began his career as a teenage graffiti artist before moving on to photography after he "realised how it communicated with people who would never stop to look at graffiti in the street." (Harvey, The rise of JR)

JR and Varda met when Rosalie Varda invited him to tea at her mother's house. They hit it off. Says JR:

We didn’t know each other. She didn’t know if I would be a pain in the ass to work with or vice versa. We just started working and then we got caught up in it. It was friendship at first sight, although it was not easy working together at the beginning. We had arguments—she had never co-directed anything in her life, so we fought. (Harvey)

After finding a camera in the Paris metro in 2001, he traveled Europe to meet those who express themselves on walls and facades, and pasted their portraits in the streets, undergrounds and rooftops of Paris.

In 2006, he created Portrait of a Generation, portraits of suburban "thugs" that he posted, in huge formats, in the bourgeois districts of Paris.

In 2007, with Marco, he made Face 2 Face, the biggest illegal exhibition ever. JR posted huge portraits of Israelis and Palestinians face to face in eight Palestinian and Israeli cities.

...

In 2010, his film Women Are Heroes was presented at Cannes.

Faces Places is a joy. The genuine curiosity Varda and JR have about the people they photograph and the respect they show them shine through every scene. The introduction to JR and his works is a wonderful bonus.

References

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