Faces Places

Faces Places is a rarity in the documentary genre with genuine warmth and heart. The concept is simple, if unlikely: in a customised van, French director Agnès Varda and street artist JR take a road trip around France, photographing the people they meet and superimposing their portraits onto buildings.

It’s a straightforward act of monumentalisation, but one that has a profound impact. The large-scale images glorify farmers, waitresses and factory workers as the endurance of their everyday lives is quite literally writ large. 

Away from France’s urban centres, Varda and JR visit villages that have been somewhat sidelined, and people whose professions are under threat from modernisation. Their project has an elegiac quality; when Varda says that her greatest desire is to “meet new faces and photograph them so they don’t fall down the holes in my memory”, her sentiment could extend to the dwindling way of life in many regions across rural France.

 

 

In many ways, Varda and JR are an unexpected pair of presenters; one is an esteemed artist of the French New Wave who was in her eighth decade at the time of filming, and the other is a street artist in his thirties who never removes his hat or sunglasses (much to Varda’s bemusement).

But together, they are difficult to resist – a well-matched duo full of spiky but good-natured charm. The closing scenes touch on Varda’s lifelong friendship with Jean-Luc Godard, inviting you to appreciate and value Varda in a new light. She passed away in 2019 – later that year, in a tribute at Telluride Film Festival, Martin Scorsese described her as “one of the gods”.

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