Eclipse Series 43: Agnes Varda in California
Agnes Varda is one of the underappreciated voices of the French New Wave. Although arguably Wes Anderson must be a fan because he frequently rips off the flat graphic style she utilized in the opening scene of "Cleo from 5 to 7", she is rarely spoken of in the same breath with the bigger "names" of the movement. Not even in discussions of the work of her husband Jacques Demy. But then again, while both of them value a certain amount of playfulness, they are dramatically different filmmakers. Demy concocted elaborate fantasias and musicals, and Varda sticks largely to realistic storytelling, sometimes making documentaries and even frequently shattering the "reality" of her fictions by letting the fact that she is standing on the other side of the lens with a crew inform how a scene is played.

The new Eclipse collection from Criterion highlights two periods when Varda was away from home, living in California. The first period is the late '60s, which began when Demy went to Hollywood to make Model Shop and the family just stayed in Los Angeles for a few years afterward. The second period was around a decade later, after a documentary project fell through and Varda was separated from Demy.

The five films in the set include fiction and non-fiction, sometimes intermingled, and they range in tone from wildly joyful to sedate and melancholy. The alien landscape of Los Angeles provides both a wonderland to explore and an unrelenting anonymous sprawl. For Varda, one of the filmmakers most able to translate her emotions and experiences into her work, this set is like a particularly engrossing diary.

Uncle Yanco (1967)
In her effervescent first California film, Agnes Varda delves into her own family history. The short documentary Uncle Yanco features Varda tracking down a Greek emigrant relative she’s never met, discovering an artist and kindred soul leading a bohemian life in Sausalito.

Black Panthers (1968)
Agnes Varda turns her camera on an Oakland demonstration against the imprisonment of activist and Black Panthers cofounder Huey P. Newton. In addition to evincing Varda’s fascination with her adopted surroundings and her empathy, this perceptive short is also a powerful political statement.

Lions Love (. . . and Lies) (1969)
Agnes Varda brings New York counterculture to Los Angeles. In a rented house in the sun-soaked Hollywood Hills, a woman and two men—Viva, of Warhol Factory fame, and James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who created and starred in the rock musical Hair—delight in one another’s bodies while musing on love, stardom, and politics. They are soon joined by underground director Shirley Clarke, playing herself as well as functioning as a surrogate for Varda. Lions Love (. . . and Lies) is a metacinematic inquiry into the alternating currents of whimsy and tragedy that typified late-sixties America.

Mur Murs (1980)
After returning to Los Angeles from France in 1979, Agnes Varda created this kaleidoscopic documentary about the striking murals that decorate the city. Bursting with color and vitality, Mur Murs is as much an invigorating study of community and diversity as it is an essential catalog of unusual public art.

Documenteur (1981)
This small-scale fiction about a divorced mother and her child (played by Agnes Varda's own son) leading a quiet existence on L.A.'s margins was made directly after Mur Murs, and though Documenteur is different in form and tone from that film, the two are complexly interwoven, with overlapping images and ideas. This meditative portrait of urban isolation overflows with subtle visual poetry.

2xDVD9 + DVD5 | NTSC | 310 minutes | 17.8 Gb + 3% rec
Language: English, Francais
Subtitles: English
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Documentary, Short

Download Eclipse Series 43: Agnes Varda in California: Uncle Janco (1967), Black Panthers (1968), Lions Love (... and Lies) (1969), Mur murs (1981), Documenteur (1981) 3 x DVD Criterion Collection: