Agnès Varda, 1928–2019

Tributes continued over the weekend to pour in for Agnès Varda, the Belgian-born filmmaker who was among the leading lights of the French New Wave. 

Described in a tweet by French Culture Minister Franck Riester as 'one of the greatest artists of our time', Varda's influence on world cinema is difficult to overstate. She first announced her talent, and singular vision, in her 1955 debut La Pointe Courte. A precursor, in its combination of high realism with innovative editing techniques, of the New Wave, La Pointe Courte was made on the fly for a tiny budget and released via a co-op that Varda established for the purpose. She would gain international attention for Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), a meditation on art, death and the representation of women in French society that nevertheless showcased Varda's delicate touch and wit. She produced feature films only relatively infrequently through her career – including One Sings, One Doesn't (1977) and the acclaimed Vagabond (1985) – and a large part of her reputation relies upon documentaries such as The Gleaners and I (2002). 

Varda's high renown among cineastes was only relatively recently translated into wider public recognition, in large part through the admiration of successive generations of artists and filmmakers. Her marginalisation from the established canon of twentieth-century film – at least for a period of time, and relative to her influence – might in part be attributed to her reluctance to adhere to traditional forms (some of her documentaries, for instance, might better be understood as cinematic essays) and, of course, to her status as a female filmmaker in a male-dominated industry. So it was fitting, perhaps, that Varda was the first woman to receive an honorary Oscar in 2017, and the following year was nominated for an Oscar in the best documentary feature category for Faces Places, in which she journeyed through the French countryside with the artist JR. Her final film, Varda by Agnes (2019), premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, 2019 and she died at home on the evening of 29 March, from complications due to cancer. 

1 April 2019