Studio: The Criterion Collection 418 (4 DVDs)
Video, La Pointe Courte: 4:3 B&W
Video, Cleo From 5 to 7: 1.66:1 enhanced for 16:9, color & B&W
Video, Le Bonheur & Vagabond: 1.66:1 enhanced for 16:9, color
Audio: French, DD mono
Extras: Three short films by Agnes Varda; La Pointe Courte: Video interview with Varda, excerpts from 1964 French TV series – Varda discussing her early career; Cleo From 5 to 7: 2005 documentary on the making of, 2005 short film retracing Cleo’s steps thru Paris, Varda on TV show with Madonna in 1993; Le Bonheur: 2006 featurettes with the three film actors, 2006 discussion about the film amongst four intellectuals, footage of Varda on the set, 1998 interview with Varda; Vagabond: 2003 documentary on the making of, 2003 conversation between Varda and composer Joanna Bruzdowicz, 1986 radio interview with Varda and writer Nathalie Sarraute; Theatrical trailers, Booklet with new essays by Chris Darke, Adrian Martin, Amy Taubin and Ginette Vincendeau, plus a forward by Varda on each film.
Length: La Pointe: 80 min.; Cleo: 89 min.; Le Bonheur: 80 min.; Vagabond: 105 min.
Coming from a background as a still photographer, Agnés Varda made La Pointe Courte in 1954 on a shoestring, engaging two fine actors – Philippe Noiret and Silvia Monfort – to work for nothing. They played a married couple rethinking their relationship while on vacation in a small fishing village on the Mediterranean. Varda used the actual people in the village playing themselves for the parallel story of their lives, and filmed without sync sound, dubbing in other voices later in Paris. The story of the couple is stylized while that of the village people is like Italian neo-realism. The cinematography is lovely and the whole approach is fresh and completely different from the average film. Varda convinced Alain Resnais to edit her film. Her filmic debut is now considered the progenitor of the French New Wave movement which didn’t really begin for several years – with Breathless & 400 Blows.
Varda was married to the late director of French musicals, Jacques Demy. She has spent most of her film career making documentaries, but her occasional thought-provoking features are something special. The other three begin with Cléo from 5 to 7, made mostly in black & white in 1961. She follows an hour and one half of consecutive time as a beautiful young woman progresses thru Paris doing various things while burdened with possible bad news from her doctor that she has some sort of terminal disease. The real-time approach was unique and made this perhaps the filmmaker’s best-known work. Even to the extent the documentary in the extras was made years later retracing the actor’s route thru Paris.
Le Bonheur was Vard’s first all-color dramatic film and proved very controversial, stimulating discussions in many quarters. The story concerns a happily married couple with two young children. The husband meets another woman and after a month of the relationship tells his wife about the mistress. In the end life goes on as before, which is the shocking element of the plot. But it was with Vagabond that Varda really jarred art-house viewers. It is a sort of road movie, like Cleo, but this time following the route of a single young girl on the road with just a backpack and sleeping bag. Varda carefully researched the mileau of the vagabonds and frequently used real people doing their real jobs and speaking what they would normally say. In one of the extras she returns to meet some of these people 15 years later. Neither the origin of the girl nor the reason for her being alone on the road are given, and following adventures with a variety of characters she meets she comes to a bad end, but the film is compelling and fascinating in its documentary-realistic approach to the difficult subject of the homeless.
All four films are beautifully transferred and the cinematography is always well-composed and edited. The mono soundtracks are clean and clear, and the many extras provided on each film are well worth watching. Another winning package from Criterion.
– John Sunier