On February 16, 2005, New York City's Film Forum will present the U.S. theatrical premiere of three cine-essays by 78-year-old French director Agnes Varda. Each of them was triggered by her love of photography, a vocation she pursued before turning to film. Cinevardaphoto will have a two-week engagement running through March 1, 2005.
The first film, Ydessa, The Bears, and Etc. (2004) is a rounded and revealing meditation on reality, fantasy, memory, childhood, death, and security as prompted by an exhibition in Munich by Ydessa Hendeles, a collector and curator who spent over a decade finding nearly 2000 photos of people of all ages from many different countries with their teddy bears. To delve deeper into this unusual art event, which fills two large rooms from floor to ceiling with photographs in frames, Varda interviews the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, critics, and individuals who share their responses to what they have just seen. It is interesting to hear them talk about the connections they feel with the people in the photographs, the different themes (pictures of children seated on benches with teddy, soldiers, groups gathered by the seaside). Hendeles' own sophisticated commentary covers some of her discoveries while collecting these photos and how she came up with the visual surprise in the third room of the exhibit.
The second film, Ulysses (1982) revolves around a photograph Agnes Varda took in 1954 that shows a nude man looking out to sea while standing on a pebble beach; next to him is a seated boy and not too far away, the body of a dead goat. The filmmaker sits down with the man and the boy 28 years later and discusses the photograph and their memories of the day it was taken. Of course, they have very different impressions of what happened. Varda uses her exquisite imagination to chart what she sees as the mythological and aesthetic meanings of the photograph and a painting of the same scene by the boy. This 22-minute picture won a 1983 Cesar for Best Short Documentary. It is easy to see why given the creativity and insights into human nature packed into this cine-essay.
The last film, Salut les Cubains (Hi There, Cubans) (1963) was shot when Varda visited Cuba four years after Fidel Castro came to power. The 1,800 black-and-white photos bring to life the cultural, political, religious, and artistic life of this island nation. Varda and actor Michel Piccoli share voiceover commentary. This is the weakest of the three cine-essays given its dated quality and all the changes that have taken place in Cuba since it was made. Still, it does convey Varda's continuing enthusiasm for all her photographic adventures, and we are the grateful beneficiaries of her immense talent in this arena.