Every reviewer who is not located at a city which is naturally at the forefront of cinema will tell you that sometimes they struggle to bring attention to the best, and most relevant, cinema to their readers and viewers – on a weekly basis.
At a time when Avengers: Infinity War has been in the theaters for several weekends and the remaining titles are Damaru ko Dandibiyo, Kohalpur Express, Shatru Gate, and Rampage – I prefer, rightly or wrongly, depending on how much you might gain from such decisions, to bring attention to films that are not immediately available at their time of release but find their way into our markets in various ways for intrepid cinephiles who are on the lookout.
Recommended to me by a movie-loving friend who saw it when it came out in cinemas in France last year, right after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival (outside of competition but winning an accolade nevertheless), Faces Places is a film worth chasing down. A documentary made by the legendary Agnès Varda – now in her late 80s, in collaboration with her friend, the 35-year-old French artist known only as JR, Faces Places or Visages Villages as it is titled in French, is the story of two artists, undaunted by their age differences, who decide to travel across France, meeting their fellow countrywomen and men, and creating art out of the faces and occupations of these quotidian but quietly extraordinary lives.
JR prints the photos of the people they meet, and with his skilled team, watched over by Varda’s unerring cinematographer’s eye, these images are pasted onto the edifices of people’s towns, homes, monuments, and sometimes the abandoned ruins that used to house entire communities.
The project sounds simple, maybe even facile, but in the hands of more ambitious, less artistic people (documentary makers are often ruthless in the manipulation of their subjects: but not these two young at heart, old souls) it could have gone wrong. Instead, the film meanders along at its own pace, the two friends converse over where to go, unafraid of boring the viewer, tease each other mercilessly, and together bring out the most tender and human aspect of themselves, and their subjects, resulting in breath-taking portraits of the people and the places they live in.
Faces Places was rightly nominated in the Best Documentary category this year, but this piece of information is only included in my review to convince the sceptics who might be holding out till now. While it did not win, the film is such a piece of beauty in an ugly world that it is worth finding, and viewing.
It is also a chance to see one of Agnès Varda’s films – her other films are not as accessible, even while Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961) is one of the great masterpieces of cinema, a dream of a film that follows the life of a woman, moment by moment, through her day: the kind of daring, insouciant, perfectly crafted film that every art-house filmmaker dreams of making.
Readers interested in Nepal and its issues, in print or online, perhaps may wonder at the point of watching a film about French blue-collar workers. I guess, I would say, the wider your viewing, the more you can open your heart. So go out and seek.