3 posts categorized "French New Wave"

November 24, 2017


VAGABONDAgnes Varda’s sturdy neo-realistic social study of a fiercely individualistic young woman, who happily lives a hobo’s life on the road in France, is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Here is Varda inventing Cinema before our eyes. The gifted filmmaker of the French New Wave plays with style and form via a reverse bookend narrative about Mona (featuring a guileless early performance from Sandrine Bonnaire), a loner leading a makeshift lifestyle based on the people she comes across.

This touching film can rightfully be considered a feminist think-piece of the first water. Documentary techniques add to “Vagabond’s” humanist appeal as a timeless artifact of French womanhood in the ‘80s, and the social conditions of the time. Some men who Mona meets are more dangerous than others, but she soldiers through predictably unpredictable situations with the full force of her corporeal nature and abilities.

Vagabond (1)

“Vagabond” achieves and effortless sense of social currency and filmic transparency. Everything rings true.

Not rated. 105 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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September 20, 2017


ColesmitheyThere is beautiful chemistry between the legendary 88-year-old French New Wave filmmaker Agnes Varda and JR, the youthful French photographer who cares for Varda as a loyal would-be grandson of artistic intentions. JR and Varda share directing credits for this disarmingly sweet and poignant documentary that plays more as a docudrama due to the circumstance of uncertainty regarding Ms. Varda’s health.

The movie is a nuanced sociological study of French culture. Needless to say, the amount of pretense on display is near zero. Think of it as neo-realistic French New Wave ethnographic study in B minor. The personal and artistic elements are articulated to their fullest — a rare cinematic, event to say the least. It doesn't hurt that JR and Agnes Varda are two of the most endearing human beings you'd ever want to spend two hours of your life with. 

The harmonious pair of inspired film-project pals travel to small towns in France in a Mercedes Benz truck decorated to resemble a giant camera. Already we are in a filmic world. The sides of JR’s fancy mode of transportation includes a photo booth where locals are photographed. The truck then prints out black-and-white portraits on gigantic sheets of paper that JR pastes to the sides of buildings to create dramatic personalized statements about the significance of human faces and truth.


Although Varda’s vision is constantly blurry due to an eye condition, she complains about JR’s proclivity for always wearing sunglasses. She wants to see his eyes. But it is clear that JR separates himself as an artist from his subject so that your attention can focus on the art rather than the artist.

Cole smithey

“Faces Places” is a film you discover and revel in the joy of its simplicity, patience, and naturalistic discourse. Like all of Varda’s films, this one is special. It won this year’s L’Oeil d’or at Cannes for good reason. If you only see one film at NYFF55, “Faces Places” is the one to watch.


Not Rated. 89 minutes. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

What to Watch at the 55th New York Film Festival from Cole Smithey on Vimeo.

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


June 19, 2017


La-pointe-courteAgnes Varda was ahead of the curve in paving the way for the French New Wave. Her 1955 debut is a delicate balance of Bergman-inspired formalism mixed with neo-realistic elements to form a mature depiction of a young married Parisian couple visiting the young man’s hometown for the first time.

'La Pointe Courte' takes its title from the neighborhood in the fishing town of Sète in the south of France where the young pair come to grips with a relationship that may be headed for divorce.

Although not the most picturesque seaside village, the community operates with an anti-authorial mindset that nonetheless adheres to strict social codes of conduct. The sense of tradition and identity is pronounced in things like the way women neighbors chat while hanging their laundry. Agnes Varda's eye for detail focuses on the abstract, the concrete, and the poetic. Life has a value here that is simple but defiant. The tone and pacing take on a hypnotic quality that puts the viewer in a filmic trance. 


Philippe Noiret and Silvia Monfort took no payment for their performances as the couple whose marital issues find context against the social backdrop of a tiny community populated with feral cats. When we see a dead cat floating in the shoreline, it registers as a surrealistic grace note out of Luis Buñuel's dialectic of natural absurdity. It's enough to make you believe that Agnes Varda initiated the French New Wave single-handedly with this unforgettable film. 


Not Rated. 86 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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