In The Beaches of Agnes, New Wave vet Agnes Varda has contrived a wondrous vehicle for recapturing watershed moments, a kind of cine memoir that filters her past through the many beaches, from Noirmoutier in France to the Pacific in California, that in some way shaped her.
Shooting in HD video, Varda includes reenactments of events in her life; old photos (she started as a photographer for Jean Vilar); excerpts from both her own films, including “Cleo from 5 to 7” and “The Vagabond,” and those of her late husband Jacques Demy.
At times Varda is archly literal, as when she walks backwards or sets up mirrors on the beach that reflect and coexist with “real” water and sky. Continually inventive and playful, the film has the artisanal flavor of something made up as it goes along.
So many striking moments: a cartoon cat who comically “interviews” Varda in the electronically altered voice of Chris Marker; a scene from her first film in 1954, projected on a makeshift screen on a moving wagon. And over it all a wash of ironic nostalgia, but also deep sadness. The most moving moments, which catch Varda weeping, display her photos of the beautiful dead – my God, the young Gerard Philippe! – including portraits of Jacques Demy, “le plus cheri des morts.”