French road trip in Visages Villages

Picture the following scene: a magical photo-booth truck is visiting a suburban town in France. Two striking characters are shown behind the steering wheel and introduce themselves. One looks like your typical jazz singer, but carries the name J.R; a French conceptual photographer and muralist. The other bright and colourful looking figure is a 89-year old lady, and no stranger at all; the famous filmmaker and photographer Agnès Varda. Together they make a unique looking duo, on a mission to capture stories of ordinary people. The historical buildings of the suburb are used as a canvas for portrayals of the locals. On one side this picturesque film is an easy breezy, down-to-earth documentary, but at the same time it pulls on our emotions affectionately.

Human emotions are the narrative thread throughout this film. It starts with the portrait subjects who discuss what they think of seeing photos of themselves on such a huge scale. By placing cameras on peoples faces directly, their feelings become exposed and create a surprising contagious effect. Some may cry, some may feel embarrassed. It shows that film as a tool is a great medium to experience a world from a different perspective. For this documentary these point of views come together in collaboration; making a documentary, or even film in general, is a piece of social work and that teamwork is necessary. In here J.R. and Varda complement each other perfectly, and with a great sense of humour they seem to let people open up more easily in front of the camera. The portrait subjects tell stories about their life and work. They show the hidden contributions to society; those who have been rendered otherwise invisible. Stories are told by the visualization of the ordinary people and emotions evoke, which leads to new, surprising connections in their communities. It’s a simple concept, but the film style emphasizes a strong emotional portrayal of French society and its economically troubled regions. The power of images and its reactions are inevitable.

JR is fulfilling my greatest desire—to meet new faces and photograph them, so they don’t fall down the holes in my memory.

The collaboration between Varda and J.R. creates a certain diversity in the scenes where they question the portrait subjects. There is an age difference of 55 years; two generations are shown strongly as we look from two points of view. But as Varda and J.R. both share their love for photography and passion for storytelling, chemistry is created as well. The dialogues between them give us a peek inside their unique, artistic vision, while they visit remarkable places during their road trip. The visited countrysides are familiar to Varda, as she often refers to her youth and the passing time. So by telling stories of others, Varda indirectly tells her own personal story too. Sharing stories of ordinary people in the purest way reminds us of Varda’s roots of being a French New Wave filmmaker. Suggestively, the idea of honoring the working class interwoven with Varda’s personal story, makes one wonder: could this documentary be a final tribute to her work? What is clear, is that Varda and J.R. take us on their journey to explore the relationship between art and landscape, which is lead by intuition and casualty that appeals to the public. Both artists prove that passions and collaboration lead to great content in the most vulnerable way.

This story was written by...
Martine Jumelet

Martine is Editor in Chief at KANVAZ. Apart from her critical eye, she is a dreamer and storyteller by heart. Proud to work with a talented team of creatives, she is eager to awaken one's curiosity for the undiscovered and establish a collective of storytellers.

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