The Conversation with Agnes Varda moderated by film critic and historian Jean Michel Frodon took place at the Locarno International Film Festival on 12 August. The rain clouds cleared just as Ms. Varda took the outdoor stage. Speaking about her career in photography, filmmaking and as an installation artist, Varda offered honest insights about being categorized both as a female filmmaker and part of the New Wave, as well as anecdotes and words of wisdom about her past and present work.
Frodon: There was an important event in the history of world cinema — the New Wave. Just before the official opening of the Locarno Festival we screened “The 400 Blows,” but actually you started the New Wave with your film “La Point Courte,” which was quite original, stunning, and unlike all the others. You were no film buff, you were a woman, not a cinephile and being a woman with quite unique characteristics.
Varda: I’m troubled with the term “New Wave”. The New Wave included a number of young, new filmmakers but to me, there was the group the Cahiers du Cinema critics who loved American films, among them Truffaut. And like me, not knowing anything about filmmaking, were Jacques Demy, Chris Marker, and me. We were farther to the left than the others. These people were grouped in the same category as if we were a group. I felt different from the Cahiers du Cinema movement. I had no knowledge of French and American cinema, and I thought structure was more important than the way the films were shot.
My references were not from film. For example: When people would put their hands on their knees, I called that an “Egyptian shot,” or I would say, “Face” rather than “close up.” I knew nothing about film jargon.
I asked Varda to expand on her feelings about being labeled as a ‘woman’ director.
Varda: That hasn’t to do with feminism it is about what I could do with cinécriture (writing on film), — the idea I had for cinema. My life as a feminist is more related to facts; fighting for contraception and people who fight for abortion rights. I have been there with women on these battles. In my film “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” (1978) it was a time when women wouldn’t dare to speak about their problems. It was better for a while but today again it’s not so good with abortion clinics closing, and so on. I fight for that. To make a statement about that. I don’t oblige myself to make feminist films because it’s complex. I cannot make a propaganda film because cinema is more interesting. I would never film something degrading. You can speak about rape, but you cannot film it. It’s very difficult what you can show — the body of a woman, the body of a man. I give a precise point of view with extreme intensity but it cannot be made
To read more: