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Friday, March 23, 2018

Faces Places

Faces Places is a charming if lightweight look at art and memory, and further reinforces the status of Agnes Varda as a kind of mascot/saint of cinema.

Varda, who received an honorary Oscar just a few months ago, was then nominated for an Oscar for Faces Places in the Best Documentary Feature category. She teams up with guerrilla artist JR to visit various places around France and meets interesting people. JR and his team then take their pictures and paste them to the side of buildings.

Varda and JR make for an amusing pair. She has two-tone hair that makes her head look like a toadstool, while he never takes off his sunglasses (Varda says this reminds her of Jean-Luc Godard). They have various answers for how they met--the funniest is when JR says they met on a dating site. They are like Mutt and Jeff when it comes to height.

The film is a bit scattershot, with no particular rhyme or reason. They visit a town that had many coal miners, a dock where they pay tribute to three wives of the workers, an abandoned village, and a World War II German bunker that fell of a cliff. JR paints a large photo that Varda took on the same beach years earlier. It washes off after the tide comes in. JR says that he is used to his art being ephemeral, but that the sea works fast.

There isn't a particular through line, other than that we should remember our old loved ones (Varda says that JR is good with old people, and he introduces us to his grandmother to prove it). The only bit of plot is when Varda arranges for JR to meet Godard, but he stands them up at the end. He is supposed to be quite a dick.

Perhaps most enjoyable about the film is when ordinary citizens get their pictures taken and see them printed on poster-size paper and then put up on a wall. One woman, a waitress, becomes the most famous person in her town.

Some thought Faces Places would win the Oscar but it lost, and I think it was because there is no strong viewpoint here, just a couple of artists having a good time interacting with small towns throughout the country.

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