Influential French filmmaker Agnès Varda, whose innovative, unconventional films La Pointe Courte, Cleo from 5 to 7, and Le Bonheur helped define France’s New Wave cinema, has been named the recipient of the Writers Guild of America West’s 2019 Jean Renoir Award for International Screenwriting Achievement, which recognizes an international writer who has advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of screenwriter.
Varda will be honored at the WGAW’s 2019 Writers Guild Awards L.A. show on Sunday, February 17.
“The Jean Renoir Award was made for Agnès Varda. She is one of our industry’s pioneers, a revolutionary artist who paved the roads of filmmaking. Her films are relentlessly curious, complex and challenging, and her body of work continues to influence modern filmmakers and resonate with modern audiences. The Board of Directors is thrilled to give her this honor,” said WGAW President David A. Goodman.
Varda’s prolific, groundbreaking body of work has been defined by a documentary realism, a feminist sensibility, and a focus on social commentary, all charged by her own signature experimental style, including her then-innovative use of on-location shooting, non-professional actors, and other techniques.
Born in 1928 in Belgium, Varda changed her named from Arlette to Agnès at age 18. She initially studied art history before making the transition to photography. After embarking on a career as a photographer, shooting typical subjects such as families and weddings, she soon emerged as one of the leading voices of Left Bank cinema and the French New Wave, or Nouvelle Vague, while maintaining a life-long, symbiotic interrelationship between photo and cinematic forms. As she once remarked, “I take photographs or I make films, or I put the films in the photos, or photos in the films,” as one medium informed the other and vice versa.
After Jean Vilar hired her as the official photographer of France’s Théâtre National Populaire, where she worked for a decade from 1951-61, she traveled throughout Europe earning a reputation as an in-demand photo-journalist with a sharp eye.
In fact, her early photography would inspire her subsequent narrative films and documentaries she wrote and directed, beginning with her seminal debut, 1955’s La Pointe Courte. Without filmmaking experience or even attending film school, Varda prepped her creative vision by photographing every element that she intended to film, carefully framed photos which served as models for shots in the film in terms of content and composition, tone and meaning. Describing her filmmaking style as cinécriture (i.e., cinematic writing or writing on film), Varda wielded her camera like a pen, as her newly created term merged “cinema” and “writing” in French.
While the French New Wave was divided into two subgroups – the Cahiers du Cinema and Left Bank cinema – due to her literary influences and because her work predates the movement, Varda’s films belong to Rive Gauche (Left Bank) cinema, viewed as the more experimental of the two schools. Varda and other Left Bank filmmakers developed a style of filmmaking that integrated documentary techniques with the avant-garde, often collaborating with each other.
Her first film, 1955’s La Pointe Courte, intertwining two stories – one macro, with sequences focusing on daily life in a small French fishing village, and the other micro, centering on couple working through their relationship – is widely considered the first film of the Nouvelle Vague movement, and one of the many she would create that focused on ordinary people, their issues, their lives, their faces. Fellow French filmmaker Francois Truffaut hailed it as “an experimental work, ambitious, honest, and intelligent.”
After La Pointe Courte, she shot a series of documentary shorts before following-up with her next feature film, 1962’s Cleo from 5 to 7, once again employing a mix of documentary and narrative techniques, this time tracking a popular singer during two real-time hours as she waits for the results of a recent biopsy. Rejecting the typical objectification of women seen in most movies of the era, Varda imbues Cleo with her own singular vision, unable to be constructed through the gaze of others around her. This challenging film was followed by 1965’s slightly more traditionally structured drama Le Bonheur, which lyrically depicts ordinary life as simultaneously mundane and poetic, and subsequently 1966’s The Creatures.
While living and working in Paris, Varda met her husband, French director-screenwriter Jacques Demy, known for his own sumptuous musicals The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. The couple married in 1960 and remained together until Demy’s untimely death in 1990 at age 59.
Varda has been considered a feminist filmmaker due to her frequent inclusion of female protagonists, as well as her development of a distinct female cinematic voice – as French film critic Delphine Benezet calls Varda “au feminin singulier,” a woman of singularity and of the utmost importance in film history, all the while embracing her own femininity on her own terms. In 1975 she founded her own production company, Cine-Tamaris.
In 1984, Varda delivered one of her mid-career masterpieces, the bleak, uncompromising Vagabond, a docu-style drama exploring the mysterious, if inevitable death of a young female drifter. Employing non-linear techniques, interviews and flashbacks, the film is divided into 47 episodes, each told from a different person’s point of view, and earned her the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion.
Shortly after her husband’s death, Varda created the film Jacquot de Nantes (1991), a loving tribute to her late husband which recreates his early life – a portrait of the artist as a young man, if you will – incorporating documentary elements by including poignant footage of the real-life dying Demy. In 1995, she also created another tribute to her late husband, The World of Jacques Demy.
Notable for its decidedly fragmentary, free-form approach, 2000’s The Gleaners and I is a documentary chronicling all types of “gleaners,” whether harvesters who live in the French countryside or artists who scour the dumpsters in Paris to create art utilizing recycled materials.
In 2009, Varda created her own kind of cinematic memoir with the acclaimed documentary feature, The Beaches Agnès, which explores her colorful past via memories, photographs, film clips, reenactments, home movies, contemporary interviews, and her own commentary as she narrates the story of her life, or at least how she remembers it. The masterful, layered film earned her a Cesar Award, France’s national film award.
Most recently, Varda co-directed the acclaimed documentary, Faces Places (2017), with artist JR, traveling through rural France and creating portraits of those people they come across along the way. The film earned the pair a 2018 Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, making Varda the oldest person ever to be nominated for a competitive Oscar (only a few days older than fellow Oscar nominee, Call Me By Your Name screenwriter James Ivory), as well as garnered France’s Lumiere Award.
Beyond her numerous, acclaimed documentary short films she continued to create throughout her career, Varda’s additional notable films include 1976’s Daguerréotypes, featuring portraits of locals who occupy the small shops along Paris’ Rue Daguerre, where the filmmaker lived for many years, 1977’s One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, involving the intertwined lives of two women in 1970’s France set against the progress of the women’s movement, a key personal interest to Varda, 1981’s Documenteur, 1988’s Le petit amour (starring Jane Birkin, Varda’s son Mathieu Demy, and Charlotte Gainsbourg) and its thematic companion piece, Jane B. for Agnès B., an “imagined biopic” of singer-actress and fashion icon Birkin, 1995’s cinema-centric comedy One Hundred and One Nights, and 2004’s Cinevardaphoto, a triptych of short films exploring the power and vitality of the photograph. On the small screen, 2011’s Agnès Varda: From Here to There is an absorbing, five-part doc miniseries which chronicles the filmmaker’s travels around the world, meeting friends, artists, and filmmakers along the way to create an expansive view of the global contemporary art scene.
Even at age 90, Varda is not yet done creating: her upcoming documentary film, Varda to Agnès, selected to premiere at the Berlinale Festival and due out later in 2019, explores her experience as writer-director, illuminating personal insight into her form of “cine-writing,” as she travels from Paris to Los Angeles to Beijing.
In spite of her rather unorthodox style, or more likely because of it, Varda has earned numerous accolades over the course of her decades-long career: In 2001, she received an honorary César Award. In 2002, she received the French Academy’s René Clair Award. In 2007, she was appointed a Grand Officer of the National Order of Merit of France – and later promoted to Grand Cross in 2013. In 2009, she was made Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur – and was promoted to Grand Officer in 2017. In 2013, she received a FIFA Award for her work in film preservation and restoration. In 2014, she received the European Film Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award – and in 2015, she was the first woman to receive an honorary Palme d’or (Golden Palm), the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2017, Varda received an Academy Honorary Award for her contributions to cinema, making her the first female filmmaker to receive AMPAS’ special award.
In 2003, Varda launched her third career as a visual artist. Her installations have been shown at the Venice Art Biennale and Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art, SMAK in Ghent, Art 41 Basel, the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paul Valéry Museum in Sète, CAFA in Beijing, and Nathalie Obadia Gallery in Paris. In 2013, LACMA hosted Varda’s first U.S. art exhibition, entitled Agnès Varda in Californialand, featuring sculptural installations, photos, and short films, all inspired by the time she spent in Los Angeles during the ’60s, as well as the Blum & Poe gallery in 2017 in New York.
Varda has two children: a daughter, Rosalie Varda-Demy, who manages the family company and produced Faces Places, and a son, actor-writer-director Mathieu Demy (Americano), who has appeared in several of his mother’s films.
Named after the influential French filmmaker, the WGAW’s Jean Renoir Award for Screenwriting Achievement honors international screenwriters working outside the U.S. and in other languages. Previous Jean Renoir Award honorees include Italian screenwriters Suso D’Amico (2009) and Tonino Guerra (2011), Japanese filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryûzô Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni (2013), Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar (2015), and Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (2017).
Photo credit: ciné-tamaris
Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!
Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer!
First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive!
So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance.
Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth.
The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge!
First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer.
A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.