Starring: Agnès Varda, JR
Director: Agnès Varda, JR
Running Time: 89 mins
Faces Places (Visages villages) is a French documentary following film director Agnès Varda and photographer JR as they journey across rural France, taking pictures of the locals and plastering large murals of them in their communities.
An unorthodox brand of documentary that combines a very modern, inclusive approach to storytelling with the inimitable style of the French New Wave, Faces Places is an impressive watch, tinged with good human drama that’s both emotionally engaging and often delightfully sweet. Its abstract and often deliberately incoherent tendencies can be a little frustrating, but with real passion and heart behind the project, this is a film that’s difficult not to like.
While I won’t say I was entirely taken by Faces Places, there is a lot to love, most of all the delightful relationship between Agnès Varda and JR as they travel across France encountering all sorts of people and communities. Rather than simply documenting their travels, the movie often plays out like a narrative drama, with Varda and JR’s unlikely friendship the main focus, as they reflect on their lives while finding common beliefs and ideas in their often differing worldviews.
That’s consistently the most engaging and emotionally resonant part of the movie, blending the intimate human emotion that the pair try to capture from the people they meet on their travels with a sense of real artistic boldness, allowing their own story to form a major part of the film’s focus, and directing it in a very unorthodox style.
And that’s the other thing I really loved about this film, its style and homages to the French New Wave. With legendary director Agnès Varda at the helm, the film is filled with a natural, pure brand of New Wave filmmaking. It may seem a little odd in a modern movie, but right from the beginning, the hallmarks are all there, and with the film’s unconventional narrative and structure, there are times when it feels like you’ve taken a trip back in time to the early 1960s, only this time following a story that’s embued with further maturity and reflection.
The core focus of Faces Places, after all, is the stories and people that Varda and JR meet all over the country, from mining towns in rainy Northern France to sun-soaked mountain villages in the South. The film lends great attention and passion to hearing their stories and ways of life, and that’s borne out in JR’s desire to immortalise people in a unique way by pasting their photos all over their community, something that comes across as a little strange and frankly random at first, but gains strong meaning as the film develops.
As I said, Faces Places isn’t your average documentary, and there are things about it that do appear rather strange. Its deliberately unconventional style is both an homage to New Wave filmmaking as well as a reflection of its directors’ artistic approach, but that can occasionally prove frustrating in some of the film’s less powerful moments.
Saying that, however, the majority of this movie is a true delight. Sweet, intimate and artistically impressive, there’s a lot to love about Faces Places, and while it doesn’t follow convention, sometimes for the better and sometimes for worse, it’s a striking and unique film throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5 overall.