Faces Places (2017)

A charming little French documentary about capturing images of the everyday as lived by everyday women and men, and lit up by the wonderful spirit of creators Varda and JR.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Agnes Varda & JR
2017 | France | Documentary | 89 mins | 1.85:1 | French
PG13 (passed clean) for brief nude images and thematic elements

Plot: Director Agnes Varda and photographer-muralist JR journey through rural France and form an unlikely friendship.
Awards: Won Golden Eye (Cannes). Won People’s Choice Award (Toronto). Nom. for 1 Oscar – Best Documentary Feature
International Sales: Cohen Media Group
Singapore Distributor: Anticipate Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Light
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Review #1,550

(Reviewed in theatres – first published 23 Mar 2018)

Spoilers: No

Turning 90 this May, Agnès Varda’s latest film, a documentary, reminds us why she is such a bubbly, lovable personality. Age is no hurdle as she, and JR, a popular photographer-cum-muralist with more than one million followers on Instagram, go on a road trip around rural France to capture images of the everyday as lived by everyday women and men.

The result is one of the most charming and sincere of documentaries in recent years. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and a winner of the Golden Eye at the Cannes Film Festival, Faces Places (its French title is Visages villages) is at its heart a personal work, a creation lit up by the wonderful spirit of its creators.

Varda and JR travel in the latter’s iconic van as they visit beautiful small towns, farms, factories, and in one breathtaking segment, a windy beach at Normandy. As the title suggests, these spatial settings form one part of the equation; the other is, of course, the people who live in these spaces.

“I still haven’t forgotten the images from your movies.”

Some speak fondly of their ancestors, the rich heritage of their hometown and their histories, while others, following the footsteps of the main creators, carry within them the quest to permeate one’s energy into lifeless, neglected settings. It is certainly inspiring to see the French, many of whom are ordinary people like you and me, find affirmation in the work of the unlikely duo.

Faces are photographed, which are then turned into huge murals that are plastered in a variety of surfaces, for example, brick, wood, metal, glass—and in Normandy, on the surface of a fallen Nazi-era bunker. While JR actively climbs onto scaffolding to put up the larger-than-life murals with assistance from his team, Varda sits back and interacts with the townsfolk.

In some of the documentary’s more wistful moments, Varda muses about the famous people she worked with in her life, including Jean-Luc Godard at the height of the French New Wave. She is also realistic about the prospect of death, with age-related illnesses slowly debilitating her, particularly her eyes.

Backed by an acoustic guitar score that is by turns joyful and melancholic, the sheer sincerity of Faces Places will work its way into your heart, and knowing that it doesn’t need anything in return.

Grade: B+


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