November 20, 2009 in Features

‘The Beaches of Agnes’

Moira Macdonald Seattle Times
 

“Imagining oneself as a child is like running backward,” says the French filmmaker Agnes Varda in her enchanting new biographical film, “The Beaches of Agnes.”

And through the film, she runs backward (or, rather, walks backward slowly – she is, after all, 80), taking us on an imaginative tour of her eventful, creative life.

We revisit her cinematic resume, including her 1962 breakthrough “Cleo from 5 to 7,” her 1985 tale of an unhappy homeless woman, “Vagabond,” and her 2000 documentary “The Gleaners and I.”

And we meet, via cinema, her great love: filmmaker Jacques Demy (“the most cherished of the dead,” says Varda), to whom she was married for many years until his death in 1990.

All of this unfolds in a meandering, intimate manner, with pauses to introduce Varda’s handsome children and grandchildren, appreciate a pretty dress she wore at Cannes long ago, or view a close-up of Demy’s gray hair in his final days.

The warm, elfin filmmaker makes a fine companion through this vivid story of a life well lived, reminding us at the end of how we create our own safe havens within our families.

And she shows us another haven: one made of celluloid and light, in a hut where strips of forgotten film hang to form walls.

“Cinema,” she says, sitting peacefully among the floating mass of images, “is my home.”

“The Beaches of Agnes” is playing at the Magic Lantern Theatre.

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