In the intro to Part 12 of this series, having just seen the trailer for The Matrix: Resurrections, I asked what it meant for Lana Wachowski to return to that series. The answer, explicitly stated in the film, was that Warner Bros was going to make another Matrix with or without her, and under those conditions, Wachowski signed on. I’m almost completely sure that no one was threatening Agnès Varda to make her own biopic without her involvement, but the first thing she clearly states at the beginning of The Beaches of Agnès (2008), is that she is playing a role of a person telling her own life story, but that it’s other people that interest her. The challenge of the project becomes how to reconcile these competing impulses.
On the success of Agnès Varda’s intended final film The Beaches of Agnès, she was invited to attend a variety of film festivals to showcase her latest work. Armed with her trusty digital camera and the opportunity to travel the world, Varda set out to meet and connect with artists and to showcase their exhibitions. Over the course of the following three years, Varda assembled and edited her footage into a 5-part miniseries called Agnès de ci de là Varda (2011).
le this series has focused on the films of Agnès Varda, it's reductive to describe her only as a filmmaker. Her career in photography predates her filmmaking career, and helps to inform her earliest film work, from the shots of the couple in La Pointe Courte to the contrasting images of a pregnant woman next to a pumpkin being hacked open in L’opéra-Mouffe.
At the time of writing, the first trailer for The Matrix Resurrections has just been released today. I don’t care speculate on exact plot details or on the film’s ultimate quality, but I am interested in the ways the filmmakers reflect and reinterpret the franchise with almost 18 years of hindsight and growth. It seems to have at least some bearing on the plot, as Neo and Trinity struggle to remember their past together, but also may have some bearing on the film as a whole. The trailer certainly carries enough visual signifiers of the past series, but stylistically it evokes less of the late 90’s industrial nu-metal vibes of the original and instead feels closer to the more recent and earnest output from the Wachowskis like Cloud Atlas or Sense 8. What does it mean for Lana Wachowski to go back to this particular subject matter now?
If I had to boil down my renewed interest in movies (going on 10 years at this point) to one thing, it would be the realization that the history of movies is broader than I ever imagined. There are so many movements and trends filtered back and forth across cultures and time periods it’s unlikely I could ever reach the end of movies. I think the best moments on Cinema Dual tend to be when Chris and I find a film that make one of both of us just a little too giddy to coherently talk about it. And while the recent(ish) trend of trying to assert the supreme importance of and unhealthy attachment to a particular work of art has exposed the bankruptcy of fandom in recent years, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the joy in something you like.
One of my favourite cinematic surprises of 2020 was the documentary Dick Johnson is Dead. Director Kirsten Johnson, as a means of processing the deterioration of her father's health and eventual passing, sets up several mostly fantastical scenarios in which Dick might die. Dick himself seems game to have some fun, demonstrating the trust, respect and love the filmmaker and subject have for each other. The film is alternately silly and painful as you track Johnson’s emotional journey through the process. This brings us to the complicated relationship between Agnès Varda and Jacques Demy.
If I've found a recurring theme to the work of Agnès Varda, it would be a curious empathy. Over and over again, Varda’s ability to notice people on the margins of society results in interesting subject matter for her art. As it becomes increasingly clear we live in a world lacking in empathy, Varda’s artistic impulses end up benefitting humanity. Certainly, it’s hard to conceive of how they could betray her, especially as it relates to an “aging” actress.
The problem of evil is typically relegated to cosmic and philosophical concerns, and the centuries of continually progressing debates do not speak well for any particular theodicies that have been presented so far. But that frustration doesn't necessarily subside on the other side of religious belief. A worldview (religious or otherwise) that provides meaning can be very appealing. Consequently, events that don't fit within the structure of that view can feel threatening to one's sense of stability, and should be ignored if possible.
Didacticism in art can be tricky to pull off well. You can have a band like Rage Against the Machine, whose politics are notoriously and very obviously left-wing, get co-opted by their political opponents who can’t see the irony in their choices. Even successfully didactic art is subject to taste, because some people don’t find a lecture all that inspiring. While the ideal balance between art and education isn’t always the same for every project, it does need to be considered. This week’s batch of movies finds Agnès Varda, no stranger to directness, pushing that balance in interesting ways.
For all of the struggles that Agnès Varda would experience with the Hollywood establishment in the context of her career as a filmmaker, she never let those experiences go to waste. Indeed, the majority of her “California” work was produced over a couple of trips, one in 1968 and another in 1979, and was borne out of professional and even personal challenges. The first trip in 1968 saw Varda trying to get a film project off the ground while her husband Jacques Demy similarly was attempting his own Hollywood breakthrough. The second trip in 1979 saw Varda set out by herself (and her son) on a film project that would almost immediately collapse.