Edition 28 December 2017, by Benjamin Roberts
Despite the almost 60-year age difference between the two directors of Visages Villages (2017), they are a match made in heaven. In this French art-house documentary film, the 89-year old filmmaker, Agnès Varda and thirty-something street artist ‘JR’ are compatible in front of the camera as well as off. She with two-toned colored hair, and he sporting sunglasses and fedora are a comical duo. Together they make Visages Villages, [Faces and Places] a road-movie about an elderly cinematographer and young street artist that travel in a van to small towns throughout France where they photograph regular folks, enlarge the photos, and mount them on walls of old buildings. Every time their van pulls up in a remote village, the couple scout-out locals, who are usually shy and more likely to shun attention. And then something special happens.
After the artistic duo photographed a young waitress sitting on a park bench and holding an umbrella, her life changed drastically. In the documentary-film, a giant photo of the women is shown on the side of a building spanning three floors, located in the middle of the village. In the documentary, her two children point out while admiring their mother, how she is a celebrity in the small town, as they try to take a selfie of themselves with the giant size portrait of their mother on the building in the back. V
arda and JR point out in the film that is it important, especially in our time to make a documentary about regular people and illuminate how everybody has their own story to tell. Varda who has written and directed more than 21 movies throughout her career, and addressed social and feminist issues, wanted to make a documentary about positivity in the everyday people. She argues there is so much negativity currently in the media about refugees. For the Belgium-born Varda whose Greek father was a refugee from Asia Minor in the 1920s, that much have resonated. Varda and JR’s documentary and photography reveal that everyone they portray is unique. Sometimes that is awkward, especially when JR photographs Varda’s toes and makes a giant poster of them and pastes them on a railway tank car. At the same, Visages Villages illustrates how we as human beings are all the same, which makes this 90-minute portrayal a heart-warming, feel-good documentary. No wonder, it won in 2017 the Cannes de l ’OEil d’or for Best Documentary at the Cannes Film Festival.