Sandrine Bonnaire won the Best Actress César for her portrayal of the defiant young drifter Mona, found frozen to death in a ditch at the beginning of Vagabond. Agnès Varda pieces together Mona’s story through flashbacks told by those who encountered her (played by a largely nonprofessional cast), producing a splintered portrait of an enigmatic woman. With its sparse, poetic imagery, Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi) is a stunner, and won Varda the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.
Criterion reissues Agnès Varda’s Vagabond on DVD as the fourth dual-layer disc in their 4 by Agnès Varda box set. The standard-definition presentation comes from a newer high-definition restoration (in comparison to what was used for their original DVD), scanned from a 35mm interpositive. It is presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Certainly a cleaner image in comparison to the old DVD (which is now a noisy mess), I was stunned to find the image a little bit softer here. Part of this could be because sharpening had been applied to the old DVD’s image, but I thought the textures on the sides of walls and the like could look a bit better on the old DVD. Despite that I would still take this presentation over that older one just because digitally it’s far cleaner. There are still limitations of course, but it’s far less noisy and upscaled it doesn’t look too shabby.
There is less damage as well, larger marks and tram lines mostly gone (things are mostly limited to some bits of dirt and debris). The colours lean a warmer yellow in comparison to the old DVD, but it’s not on the level you see with a lot of restorations today.
Not great but a big upgrade over the previous DVD. It was just obviously still open to improvement.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural presentation is perfectly fine for the film. Music has some decent depth and range to it, and dialogue sounds clear and clean. There is also no damage to speak of.
Making up for their previous barebones DVD, Criterion packs in a few special features, which may be some of the better ones to be found in the set. Remembrances starts things off, and I guess I would consider it to be a making-of documentary, though put together by Varda in 2003. Running 41-minutes she recounts the inspirations behind the film, revisits locations, and even presents new interviews, including with Sandrine Bonnaire. She also explains her reasons behind a few decisions (like suggesting a rape instead of showing it) and even goes over the editing, showing the two different takes she had for the films final key scene and then explaining why she chose the take she did. Though it works very well as a recollection of the production I appreciated Varda’s own analysis on her own decisions. (There is also a similar feature found in this set’s disc for Cléo from 5 to 7.)
The features also present about 3-minutes’ worth of footage (now moldy) Varda filmed around one of the non-professional actors in the film, Marthe Jarnias, under The Story of an Old Lady. The next feature, Music and Dolly Shots, is then a kind of video essay put together by Varda, around the film’s score and creating dolly shots that the music would play over. Varda and composer Joanna Bruzdowicz both appear to talk about the collaboration before Varda shows the dolly footage from the film with the score, point out how the end of one shot connects to the beginning of the next one, connecting the protagonist’s journey.
To Nathalie Sarraute presents about 9-minutes’ worth of excerpts from a 1986 radio interview featuring Varda and Sarraute, there to promote the film by the sounds of it. Varda did base some elements in the film on Saurraute’s own experiences and both talk a little about that here, Saurraute also commenting on the film itself. The audio plays over photos of the two and photos from the production.
The disc then closes with the film’s trailer.
Like the other discs in the set there isn’t a lot here, but I found the material more rewarding, particularly with Varda talking how she edited the film.
Though the presentation is certainly open to improvement still, it’s a big upgrade over the previous DVD and I found the supplements to be the strongest collection in the set.