Dir. Agnes Varda
65 years after helping pioneer the French New Wave, Agnes Varda perpetuates the movement with yet another film which harks back to its origins—elements of intellectual self-reflection and realization. She brings to the fore the art of filming the process of filming which Godard in particular enmeshed in his otherwise fictitious films. With Faces Places, Varda and J.R.—a remarkable photographer and newfound friend—document their efforts both in planning and in making their documentary, at times cross cutting between the moment of a formed idea and its realization thereof.
They visit various villages in France in effort to reveal the never-talked-about people who serve as the backbones of their small communities. Using Varda’s keen eye and J.R. creative fervor, they stamp faces on landmarks, realizing the village’s personality by marking a face to the place.
At times, Varda delves into the past, and the film becomes much about her history in these various places, the friends she had, and the ones who have left her. Stills from her films, such as Cleo, Ulysse, and Le Bonheur, as well as conversation of notable figures, such as Godard and Demy, transform the film into a kind of swan song for the aging filmmaker. A testament to both her unique auteurist method as well as her gentle spirit, Faces Places paints a picture of a long meaningful life coming towards its end.
Dir. Hong Sang-soo
Perhaps the most prolific filmmaker today, Hong Sang-soo has made four features in just over a year. Claire’s Camera, a film shot in Cannes during the Cannes film festival—yet not at all about the Cannes Film Festival—is one of these films.
As with many of his features, Hong is interested here in dialogue and communication. The two primary characters, Claire (Huppert) and Jeon (Min-hee Kim), speak their shared second language, English, in a manner not unlike children. Asserting that it is through language that the intellectual realm is established, he aims to show what learning has lost us—the ability to make real connections based on intuition, feel, and body language alone. Hong’s penchant for tautology takes on a Daoist quality here, opting for simplicity and minimalism in concept and creation.
In his signature long take style, he often zooms from establishing shots in order to engage with action before zooming back out. There is no need for a cut, thus remaining perfectly present throughout the action, forging an imprint of time. In another signature move, he cuts these long takes in a non-linear manner, playing with time and space in a manner which evokes the philosophies of Bergson and Deleuze.
Besides all this, Claire’s Camera’s most notable features are the remarkable performances of the two female leads. They share a kind of beautiful chemistry in their innocent conversations. Though banal and prone to miscommunication, their words are always spoken with pure intention and interest, thus revealing how childlike kindness may proffer real human connection.
Maison du Bonheur
Dir. Sofia Bohdanowicz
In 2016, when Bohdanowicz won the Best Emerging Canadian Director award for her debut feature Never Eat Alone, several compared her restrained, elegant filmmaking to that of a young Chantal Akerman, made ever more poignant as the latter’s passing remained fresh on the minds of cinephiles and critics alike. With Maison du Bonheur, a markedly distinct film documentary which encapsulates Bohdanowicz’ process in its performative activities, she more closely resembles Agnes Varda, the French female master—this comment comes notwithstanding having just seen Varda’s latest feature.
As with many of Varda’s documentaries, Bohdanowicz interpolates herself into the story, presenting at once a tableau of her friend’s unique mother, a Parisian astrologer, as well as a procession of filmmaking itself. She gives voice to a person whose fascinating story would otherwise remain unknown, the simple yet sincere woman of charm and kindness that she is.
The notion of discovering and thus revealing new subjects stands at the core of Bohdanowicz method, one which pays great respect to the camera’s potential for bringing new stories to life. Shot with a 16mm bolex, Bohdanowicz film was made from scraps of film stock, edited together with an approximately 1.5:1 shooting ratio—a feature in and of itself. Commenting that this process compels her to be present and attend each shot with a careful eye, Bohdanowicz suggests that it turns limitations into a springboard for mindful filmmaking. And in keeping with her use of film to trace the true, Bohdanowicz complements her profilmic commitment by maintaining sound of the rolling bolex through sequences of the film.
As a creation of art, Maison du Bonheur’s most admirable quality is the illustration of two strong women, filmmaker and subject, who graciously reflect upon and reveal to us their humanity as they journey through the process together of making a film and becoming closer as individuals.
Still Night, Still Light
Dir. Sophie Goyette
Goyette’s meditative feature shows restraint as it channels the phenomenal landscape of dreams, music, and life. It calls the audience to look inwards and to attend such phenomena as stillness, silence, and lightness as a means of summoning feelings of peace, liberty, and escape.
A three part story, the film begins on a young girl, Eliane, who chooses to leave college to travel abroad teaching piano. It becomes affectingly clear that escape of her troubles do not lie in the physical journey but perhaps does in her passion for music. In a less balanced second act, Romes struggles with mid-life woes and the raising of a son, and in the third act, an aging Pablo yearns for a long lost love.
While all three acts present existential reflection, there is disharmony in the film’s rhythm as it fails to maintain a fluid through line between its parts. Though attempting to fix this through a strict formal design of long takes and still shots, this quality becomes increasingly at odds with the stories being awkwardly told.
What does, however, save the film’s tonal imperfections are the number of poetic sequences wherein dialogue overlays imagery, such as clouds, the sea, and the earth. These scenes oft use intertitles and have poetic interludes with wonderful accompany music. Upon returning to the comparatively rigid conversation pieces, however, the delight of intuitive filmmaking unfortunately comes to rest.