The final line of The Beaches of Agnes goes "While I live, I remember". This line, both nostalgic and prophetic in its forbearance, can be used, if one so desires, to sum up what this film is all about. Of course boiling down the life of an 80 year old filmmaker such as Agnes Varda to one final line could never do justice to a career that began before the New Wave and continues through this autobiographical filmic essay-cum-self retrospective. Not even close. Yet this line, "While I live, I remember", cannot be heard without an obvious nudge to its inherent immortality - and to the seeming immortality of Ms. Varda as well. Even long after the filmmaker is gone from this world, we will, thanks to the immortality of cinema, still remember.
Speaking of rememberances of things past, Varda's quite lengthy career - in an extremely male dominated business at that - can be seen as true maverick filmmaking. A comrade of the Nouvelle Vague - as well as wife and widow to another fellow comrade, Jacques Demy - Varda, with her first feature, the post-modern feminist parable Cleo from 5 to 7, joined the ranks of Maya Deren and Dorothy Arzner as one of the very (very very) few female voices in world cinema. Then Varda took this opportunity and went the complete opposite direction from where many in her position would have gone. Making the films she wanted to make and thus never becoming as world-reknowned as many of her contemporaries. It is a lesser-known cinema but it is a cinema of personal passions.
Turning to documentary filmmaking in her later years, Varda's most important films have come most recently. Her final goodbye, farewell and amen to her dying husband, 1991's Jacquot de Nantes (he died while the film was being made) and the followup doc, 1995's L'univers de Jacques Demy, are equally haertbreaking and deifying. Her 2001 film, The Gleaners & I, showing the unrecognized poor and homeless of Paris, shows Varda's immense talent at showing us what we do not see - or what we do not want to see. As those films revolve around other subjects yet bring Varda herself in from the periphery, Beaches is all Varda, all the time, and just like her other recently documented documentaries, we are lost in the remembrances that are Varda. And thanks to her, we will always remember. [07/17/09]