Friday, May 11, 2018

Agnes Varda and JR Go On A Road Trip Packed With Engrossing Kindness In Faces Places

Iconic director Agnes Varda started out her filmmaking career with La Pointe Courte, a sobering look at a relationship in crisis, but her newest film is a complete 180 from 1955 feature in terms of tone. That newest directorial effort of hers is called Faces Places and one just feels pure joy from watching it. There are few movies I could say this about without some kind of caveat (The Muppets is one of the only other scant few titles I can think of to earn that distinction), but Faces Places really is that enjoyable to watch. From its humorous opening sequence establishing various ways that it's two lead characters did not meet to its heartfelt conclusion, Faces Places keeps a smile on your face and a sincere sense of kindness emanating from every fiber of its being.

Agnes Varda isn't just directing Faces Places, she's also out in front of the camera alongside a young French photographer going by the name of JR. The two may appear to be an unlikely duo, but Faces Places sees them teaming up to go an expansive journey across different parts of France to interact with locals and then take gigantic photographs of those very same locals that they will then paste onto nearby buildings, rock formations or barns. That may sound like a strange idea for a road trip when I describe it, but Varda and JR find it to be a wonderful merging of their individual tastes, specifically their shared fascination for the power individual images (like a photograph) can have on people.

They're also looking to humanize the everyday people they come into contact with, individuals like the last lady living in a mining village, a man who's never worked a job or the wives of dock workers. These kind of people you might just pass on the street on an average day are the exact human beings Varda and JR center their photography and sections of Faces Places around. Everybody has some kind of story to tell and the lives of these three ordinary people, as well as the lives of other individuals our two leads encounter in their journey, provide an engrossing backbone for Faces Places as a movie that makes it clear why Agnes Varda and JR decided to embark on this quest in the first place.

Part of what makes these stories so interesting is the versatility of types of people that Agnes Varda and JR come across, we meet people of varying ages, financial status and upbringing that ensure the film avoids becoming repetitive. Also capturing one's interest is the delightful rapport between Varda and JR, there's a likable camaraderie between the two of them that's thoroughly entertaining to watch. Plus, it's cool that, while elements of conflict exist between them (most notably, Varda really wants JR to take off these shades he's always wearing), so much of their friendship really does thrive on mutual respect for one another. Such pure kindness is rare in this world but it emerges in how Agnes Varda and JR interact.

Though JR has a highly engaging personality of his own, the MVP of the duo headlining this project has to be Agnes Varda. Her perspective on the world, informed by her having lived on this planet for 88 years, is utterly fascinating and scenes showing her return to places where she did photography decades prior have a powerfully wistful quality to them that resonated with me deeply. A climactic scene depicting her and JR trying to meet up with fellow French movie legend Jean-Luc Godard is similarly emotionally affecting because of the singular perspective Varda brings to the proceedings, the scene wouldn't work anywhere near as well if it wasn't so heavily informed by her own experiences.

Pairing this one-of-a-kind human being with photographer JR ends up subtly creating one of the best attributes of Faces Places, the unity between older and younger generations. There's such lovely respect given for people of all ages running throughout Faces Places that allows it to avoid tired jokes that usually crop up in movies about the current young generation interacting with the old. The very concept of selfies or social media existing aren't treated as a bad thing, they're just shown to be a part of life now that everybody uses. Faces Places is very much aware of how the modern-day world operates while also keeping itself firmly tied into the past via Agnes Varda's experiences and memories. The past and the present unite in such a joyful manner in Faces Places, an Agnes Varda directed triumph that's endlessly charming and sweet.

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