Before the French New Wave splashed into art house cinemas around the world, there was one filmmaker whose works blurred the lines between fact, fiction, and the fantastical. The films of French director Agnès Varda tend to be non-linear and sometimes hilarious. Often they are part documentary and part narrative, with a distinct sprawling style would become jumping off point for filmmakers of the future. Los Angeles County Museum of Art's new exhibition "Agnès Varda in Californialand" presents works based on the auteur's time in our state, featuring photographs, film ephemera, and a sculptural house-like structure built from actual film stock.
Restored prints of her films have been screening at LACMA recently and will also be shown at AFI Fest next week, where the 85-year-old will be serving as the festival's guest artistic director. On November 3, she will stop by the Getty Center to discuss her films with senior film research associate Rani Singh.
Varda's life intersected with Southern California in the late 1960s when she and her husband, the late filmmaker Jacques Demy, moved their family to the region. While street protests raged in Paris in may of 1968, Varda experienced the throes of cultural revolution happening stateside. As a French filmmaker, she earned intimate access to many aspects of local life from documenting the Black Panthers in Oakland to hippies of Sausalito in her film "Uncle Yanco." As a seemingly objective outsider she captured the fraying of America's established societal norms and the redrawing of cultural roadmap charting the long journey slouching toward inclusivity and diversity.
In Los Angeles, her film "LIONS LOVE (AND LIES)," which screened last night at LACMA, Varda depicts the nouveau boho life in the Hollywood Hills, focusing on the meandering dialogue and absurdist activities of Andy Warhol's muse Viva!, as well as Jerry Ragni and Jim Rado, the creators of the cultural sensation Hair. Juxtaposing their lassitude and epic bedroom conversations with actual documentary footage of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination at L.A.'s ambassador hotel and the subsequent news coverage of the event, Varda creates an visual ecosystem that nurtures both the real conflicts of the era and an archetype of the Hollywood libertine. Varda is a master at affect; she evokes feelings of humor, introspection and sometimes frustration, in her peripatetic narratives that reflects her wandering spirit and the world as she sees it.