The Complete Films of Agnès Varda
Program 7: Her Body, Herself
A founder of the French New Wave who became an international art-house icon, Agnès Varda was a fiercely independent, restlessly curious visionary whose work was at once personal and passionately committed to the world around her. In an abundant career in which she never stopped expanding the notion of what a movie can be, Varda forged a unique cinematic vocabulary that frequently blurs the boundaries between narrative and documentary, and entwines loving portraits of her friends, her family, and her own inner world with a social consciousness that was closely attuned to the 1960s counterculture, the women’s liberation movement, the plight of the poor and socially marginalized, and the ecology of our planet. This comprehensive collection places Varda’s filmography in the context of her parallel work as a photographer and multimedia artist—all of it a testament to the radical vision, boundless imagination, and radiant spirit of a true original for whom every act of creation was a vital expression of her very being.
The seventh dual-layer disc found in Criterion’s box set The Complete Films of Agnès Varda features the program “Her Body, Herself” and presents the films One Sings, the Other Doesn’t; Réponse de femmes; and Plaisir d’amour en Iran. Réponse de femmes is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is sourced from a 35mm internegative according to the opening text on the restoration (the book’s notes state it has been sourced from a 16mm negative, but I do doubt that to be the case). The other two are presented in the ratio of 1.66:1 and both have been sourced from the 35mm original negatives. All of the films have been scanned and restored at 2K resolution.
The disc is essentially the individual release Criterion put out last year for One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, which even featured the other two films as supplements. This disc differs in that the menu has been modified to match the rest of the set, the two short films now open with the Criterion logos themselves, and the disc also contains an extra feature that was not found on that individual release. It looks as though Criterion had to shift things a bit to make that extra supplement fit, as the file for One Sings, the Other Doesn’t is a few gigabytes smaller on this disc, yet despite that, I couldn’t detect a discernable difference between the two presentations.
The image for that film is still very sharp and highly detailed, while also rendering film grain incredibly well. It gives off a nice filmic look and nothing stands out as problematic in relation to the encode. What I still have issue with is the heavy green/yellow tint the film has. This is just a common thing now I guess, but it really doesn’t look right, and I’d say it looks gross, for lack of a better word. Skin tones are jaundiced, whites have a yellow tint, and I don’t think the colour blue ever shows up. Lots of cyan, though.
And unfortunately, this carries through to the other two films. Though the films all ultimately have a nice film-like texture to them, the yellow tint really hampers things and also impacts the black levels, which can come off a bit muddy.
All of the films have been thoroughly cleaned up at the very least, with only a handful of minor marks remaining between the three of them. Digitally the shorts also look great. Like One Sings, Plaisir d’amour en Iran renders grain quite wonderfully, with it looking pretty fine, and this leads to the sharp details. Réponse is a bit fuzzier in comparison to the other two, and its grain is a bit thicker, though I suspect this is because the film was originally filmed on 16mm and just transferred to 35mm. Despite that it still looks filmic on the same level as the other films.
Overall, the encodes, clean-up, and clarity of the image across all three films is fine, it’s again that yellow tint, which really kills the colours and the black levels.
Yet again, all of the films come with single-channel monaural soundtracks, all in French. Surprisingly, all three are presented with lossless PCM 1-channel mono soundtracks; so far, most of the shorts in the set have come with Dolby Digital soundtracks, and the films on the individual edition of One Sings were also presented in Dolby Digital.
All three soundtracks sound fine enough, offering clean, sharp dialogue. One Sings can come off a little more dynamic during musical sequences but on the whole all of the tracks are pretty flat.
This disc does port over all of the on-disc supplements found on Criterion’s individual release of One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, though it adds one new feature and presents the two short films as primary feature films through the main menu. The new feature is one of the more interesting ones in the set: Varda’s television film Nausicaa. The history behind the film is a rather fascinating one, and it’s a bit disappointing Criterion doesn’t offer more material around it. Varda had made the film for French television in 1967, and it was apparently a response to the Greek coup d’état by the far-right. Varda was in the process of editing the film together when it was seized by the French government (as far as I understand it) without explanation. It managed to surface in the 70s and has been loosely available on home video, but only in a work print form, which is what Criterion presents here.
I don’t think Varda was done with it yet as it’s pretty rough around the edges. It’s a mix of fiction and documentary, with a plot around a woman (who is, I’m sure not coincidently, named Agnès) taking in a Greek exile (this appears to be somewhat autobiographical). Cut into this are what seem to be reenactments and then talking-head interviews with actual Greek exiles living in France, who address Varda as though they are sending her a video letter of some sort. Some sequences go on, some of the editing is choppy, and it has a very scattershot feel, so I’m assuming this isn’t exactly what Varda intended (again, it was confiscated while she was editing it), but it’s a fascinating, incomplete work.
It also doesn’t look too bad here. It’s a work print, and as I said the editing can be rough, splices and all still showing. There’s also a lot of damage. But it is presented here in high-definition, and despite the low bitrate it still manages to look like a film, if a rough one.
Carried over from the individual Blu-ray edition is the 47-minute documentary directed by Katja Raganelli, Women Are Naturally Creative. The documentary ends up being a combination making-of documentary for One Sings, the Other Doesn’t and portrait of its director. There’s quite a bit of production and post-production footage, which Varda narrates, mixed in with interviews. Raganelli also gets in interviews with Varda and the two talk about some of her previous work, the representation of women in them (as well as “female language in film”), and even talk a bit about her time in California and the work that came from that. And hey, you even get see Varda as a parent, like in one sequence where she has to tell her son Mathieu to go off to bed. It’s a well-done portrait of the director, even in its brief time, and a nice inclusion.
The film’s supplements then close with a trailer. The other two films only receive short introductions, Varda explaining the origins of each film. Sadly, the set drops one of the nicest features with the individual release: the reproduction of the press booklet for the film.
All three films have a nice film-like look, but the yellow tint, yet again, is still a bit much. The addition of Varda’s unfinished film, Nausicaa, is a wonderful new addition.