Time is Part of the Work: An Interview with Agnes Varda

 
illustration by Brianna Ashby

illustration by Brianna Ashby

 

by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

I am at the beach with Agnès Varda. I’ve made an audio recording of it, but sometimes our words are washed out by the low roar of waves and wind hissing over the sand. Playing it back, trying to recall the moment, I can faintly hear her say:

“I live in Paris… But my mind is always… (she giggles) Near the sea. Very often. It’s my favorite landscape. Above all.”

There are photographers everywhere these days, and they’re all around us, but for the first time that day Agnès asks politely, humbly if I’ll take a photograph of her. So I do. It’s a nerve wracking thing, taking a photo of someone who was a photojournalist in Cuba and China in the 50s & 60s, a woman who helped create the bedrock of independent filmmaking with some of the greatest French actors, redefined documentary filmmaking, and is now a globally renowned visual artist. My hands are a little shaky at first, but she knows how to direct, steadfast and commanding. She likes to call the sound a camera shutter makes “clack” and so, clack, clack, the 35mm photo is taken, waiting to be developed over time.

As I pull the camera viewfinder away I see Agnès’ wonderfully serene, somewhat mischievous face, and yet the sky and the waves are divided by a sharp, straight edge. Because we are not at the seaside, we are on the fifth floor of a building on the Upper East Side of New York City, the Blum & Poe art gallery, and this beach is a work of installation art she has created, Bord de Mer.

“In my imagination, the sea invades everything,” she says. “It’s between reality and imagination. And I do it the way I feel.”

*

It cannot be stressed enough that Agnès Varda is a monumental filmmaker. Her influence cannot be overestimated, and yet is still often underreported. Before she tells us in her own words, let us consider: Agnès Varda was born in Brussels in 1928. During World War II her family moved to the South of France, partly in Sète, a seaside town. She studied art history at the Louvre, but at night took classes on photography.

In another room of the gallery, we are looking at the very same prints Agnès made in 1954 when she exhibited her photos on window shutters and ladders in the courtyard of a building on Paris’ Rue Daguerre. I don’t mean to be impolite when I note that Agnès is 88 years old, I mean it with admiration, and her memories are full of startling asides.

“I put fliers up in my bakery, my butcher, maybe twenty shops nearby… I just gave my neighbors a little flier. And some people came. Among my neighbors, I must say, there was the painter Hans Hartung and the [legendary photographer] Brassai, who lived on the next street. I took a portrait of Brassai on film, later.”

She has lived and made films on that street ever since, sometimes quite literally: in her film Daguerrotypes (1975), she documents the lives of the workers in the local shops and cafes she once left fliers in. She even bought a hardware store seen in the film, which she later converted into her film editing studio. For a while she sold DVDs of her movies to visitors from around the world through the window, living out a daydream, she says, of being a shopkeeper.

“So they are the exact prints I showed in 1954. I shouldn’t have done it, but when I found them in a box, they were so badly preserved that I threw two away. I don’t even remember which ones. So I don’t give value to my own work. As it’s just a memory of my work. But now it’s valuable. It’s funny for me.”

Agnès was quick to embrace digital filmmaking and was a pioneer in using it for documentary filmmaking. I ask her if she is still taking photographs on film.

“When I started to make a lot of films, I stopped taking photos. Even when I went on trips, I can’t believe it, like when I went to Mexico, but I wouldn’t take my stills camera. But I started to take photos again, after 2000. So I have recent photos. Something I do now is I join silver prints, with silver negatives, and on the side of a triptych I do photos with digital and color. I like to reconciliate black and white and color, the past and the present, the digital and the authentic. It’s like trying to make everything simple for me. It’s not ‘that time’ or ‘this time’. It’s mixing time and technique.”

One haunting photo of a man and a boy, taken on a beach in Calais in May 1954, Agnès would make a film about forty years later (Ulysee), tracking down the subjects and discovering the history of their lives absent in the photograph at first glance. This is a recurring idea in her work, that beyond the representational space of a film frame, an edit, a single image, a gallery space, there is an outside world only implied or imagined or rendered as unknown history.

“That’s the beginning of my history. These exact prints, what they call vintages now. For me, it’s just my work. But now it has the value of time, the fact that it’s hand-made.”

*

photo by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

photo by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

Walking into another room of the gallery, Agnès smiling, we encounter the unlikely sight of a greenhouse full of sunflowers and the grounded hull of a boat, at least in handmade miniature. Upon closer examination their form is slightly ethereal, somehow capturing and holding the light in the room, because these maquettes have been made out of prints of super 8mm film. One of her most highly regarded films is a film about recycling, The Gleaners & I, a documentary about the lives of people who forage for leftovers from fields and markets, and their similarities to artists.

“Not only because of The Gleaners & I, but I was always interested in how we can recycle things. And what happened is: we used to show films on print stock. Like in the theater. They came in ten metal cans, which had the reel of film. And then the projector was showing the reel, the 35mm print. And it’s changed. Now it’s DCP, it’s a little cassette, it’s dematerialized.

So we have all these prints. Nobody wants to show them now. And no one wants to store them, and they ask me to pay to destroy them. So I thought, hey, I want to recycle them. I decided to make shacks, to make houses out of my old film prints. They became like ribbons, making the walls. I started to build houses, shacks, with real 35mm film prints.”

The first one she made was a life-sized shack she called Ma Cabane de l’Échec, or, My Cabin of Failure (the French word for failure sounding very much like shack), made up of 35mm prints of her film Les Creatures, starring Michel Piccoli and Catherine Deneuve, which Agnès is quick to point out unsentimentally was “a flop”. Another shack was constructed in Los Angeles, built from a 35mm print of her film Lions Love (... and Lies) which she also describes as a flop, but adds, “It was something that told very well Hippie Hollywood and film…what was happening in 1968 and 1969 in Los Angeles.”

During those years Agnès lived in California while her husband, Jacques Demy, worked on Model Shop, his English language film for Columbia Pictures, a follow up to the international successes of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort—which it is fair to say were the La La Lands of their day.

“Damien Chazelle says he owes a lot to Demy. And he came to Paris and he came to our house, which is where I lived with Jacques, and he was touched to tears that he was near a man he admired. It means there’s a transmission of love for film, of love for people. We learn from other people, they way they speak to us, the way they tell us stories. It’s a world of cinema, a world of artists, where we may have a little room and real reason to be there.”

Meanwhile, Agnès went to Oakland on the weekends, and made a short documentary about The Black Panthers, filming most of it herself with a 16mm camera. French TV broadcasters asked for the film, but rejected it on the grounds that it might stir too much righteous anger in the populace, which is astonishing once you watch it, because it’s a remarkably sympathetic and empathic record of 1968 to watch in our time of Black Lives Matter.

The Los Angeles My Shack of Cinema now resides in the collection at LACMA, a monument and home to her years in California. Agnès started to have smaller versions made.

“Since it is difficult and expensive to do the big ones, I start to make maquettes. This one is the film Le Bonheur. The film starts with a lot of sunflowers. So I imagine a greenhouse where they grow sunflowers."

photo by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

photo by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

"I bought many many little boxes of Super 8, and had a Super 8 camera, and we projected the film and filmed it again. It’s a joke in a way.

Another film I made was in 1954, it was called La Pointe Courte, and at the end of the film, the couple on the beach they find a boat like this. And the relationship is finished.”

As I examine the two models, I notice that the maquette with its celluloid walls looks different in this room depending on the light, whether it’s night or day. In The Beaches of Agnès, the incredibly moving documentary memoir she claimed would be her final film, Agnès sits within the large shack, its walls glowing as only film prints can, and says “What is cinema? Light coming from somewhere captured by images more or less dark or colorful…. In here It feels like I live in cinema. Cinema is my home. I think I’ve always lived in it.”

*

Invariably, in these social media times, an iconic photograph of Agnès often appears whenever we attempt to reckon with the canonical suppression of the history of women filmmakers. But the full story of Agnès’ first film, La Pointe Courte, isn’t told nearly as often as that image is seen, and it’s remarkable.

In 1954, 25 years old and having (she swears) only seen a handful of films, Agnès returned to the beaches of her adolescence, in Sète, to take some photographs for a friend who could not visit. And, for the only reason in the world that motivates certain filmmakers, she was seized by an intense need and longing to make a movie there. She started by forming a production co-op under the name Cine-Tamaris (which she still uses to this day). Co-ops were a way of circumventing the rigid hierarchies and apprenticeships and licensing of filmmakers that had become standard in Post-War French filmmaking, leftover rules from the Vichy Occupation. Agnès, in the spirit of independent filmmaking and blazing a path for others, simply went around those rules, and, literally unlicensed, gathered together a shoestring budget mostly made up of inheritance money. The cast (including a then unknown 25-year-old named Phillipe Noiret) and crew rented a tiny house and ate meals and lived there together. Once shooting was complete, though, she needed to edit it.

Agnès had heard about Alain Resnais from reading Andre Bazin, so she wrote a letter to him. He came to the lab to watch her rushes. Fastidious and precise in manner, Resnais viewed two of her nine hours and said nothing, only telling her later that evening over the phone that he couldn’t edit her film, because it too closely resembled his own research he was doing into filmmaking. She says she cried then; it was a bad portent. He did give her some technical advice and assigned her the laborious and arcane task of preparing the physical film rushes to be edited.

Ten days later she called him, and when Resnais heard she’d done all this complicated work, he said, “You’re crazy. I’ll edit the film” in exchange for lunch money every afternoon. Working on the edit, he remarked on how she’d borrowed elements from both Visconti and Orson Welles. She informed him she’d never seen their films, so he suggested films to check out at the Cinematheque. She kept returning to that cinema to watch more and more films and eventually, she says, “I got the disease”.

Now finished, La Pointe Courte screened to a small crowd at Cannes, paid for by Agnès’ mother. And then it sat around for a year. Finally, a programmer named JL Cheyard gave it a two week run at Le Studio Parnasse, the central hang out for Parisian cinephiles with its mix of eclectic programming, which defied the cinemas along the Champs Elysses. François Truffaut wrote that Studio Parnasse was the best programmed theater in all of Paris at the time, and Cheyard would host discussions with the audience after screenings debating the films, invariably comprised of many leading critics and filmmakers.

And so Agnès watched one evening, anxiously, from the projection booth as people like Marguerite Duras, Chris Marker, and Truffaut himself came in to watch her movie. After it screened, the reaction was mixed. Truffaut stated it was fake and seemed puzzled, while Marker defended it, making an observation about the connection of its two lead characters to metal and wood.

Agnès says of that moment, “My heart began to beat”. This was symbolism she never thought anyone would ever discover, let alone discuss out loud. Truffaut gave the film a middling, confused review (funnily enough, he steals Marker’s observation without crediting him). It’s an interesting read now, because so many things in cinema recur and repeat to new generations, and Truffaut’s reaction is something we still debate about cinema, as written in his 1956 review:

It is difficult to form a judgment of a film in which the true and the false, the true-false and the false-true, are intermingled according to barely perceived rules.

La Pointe Courte never made its money back and never received a proper release. It is now rightly argued to be the beginning of the Nouvelle Vague, in the same way that Visconti set off Neorealism. A mix of documentary and fiction, of non-actors and movie stars, with experiments in time, real and non-real, its aesthetics presaged the obsessions of the French New Wave by several years and its spirit and ideas directly influenced many of her peers.

But the film ultimately languished in some obscurity, until Criterion made it available again decades later. Agnès wasn’t able to make another narrative feature for seven years. It’s been suggested this was a kind of industrial punishment for refusing to adhere to the filmmaking system of the time (I take note that the only other woman directing narrative features at the time in France was Jacqueline Audry, who came up as an apprentice). In the meantime, like other French female filmmakers of the time (Nicole Védrès, Yannick Bellon), she directed short documentaries and found another calling, one she would often return to, if not outright master, throughout her career: the Left Bank style film essay form and documentary.

In 1962, she would direct the wonderful Cleo from 5 to 7, which would finally grant her the international recognition and audience she deserved; although she notes that it's always difficult for daring filmmakers to find money to make their films. At last, she had opportunities to direct more feature films, like Le Bonheur and Vagabond.

And that image of Agnès, behind the camera, would persist to this day.

*

“All images are questions. if you look at everything, a painting, an image, you can question… The way you look at it, what it brings to your mind, if it reminds you of something. My god. It does something. You could get that from one image, and there are so many. So you have to choose.

A snapshot is a real mystery. Because you do them in the street somewhere and really each time when I look at them I say who are they? From where are they coming? Why are they together? Maybe they hate each other, maybe they love each other. It’s even - in a magazine when they show all these things about war, about peace, about people in the streets, even you see them in demonstrations, I am always questioning: who are they?”

A lot of the art you’re making asks the viewer’s imagination to be a participant…

“Well I ask people to participate, because an image you know… If you close the light, and you all go out, an image is nothing. It’s nothing. If nobody looks at an image it’s a dead piece of paper.

One viewer is enough. Somebody looks at the image, one viewer is enough. Two or three is fine. A thousand is, you know, in a film if you run the film in an empty theater, it’s nothing. But one spectator is enough.”

So what about our modern culture of photographs and videos? Last night at your art opening everyone was taking photos constantly of everything.

“Well that’s interesting, cause you know when I was young it meant something to have a camera. It changed so much that now not only people start to have cheap cameras, but they all have smartphones and people do photos all the time. And it’s interesting because most, when they do selfies, they want to prove to themselves they were there.

It’s interesting because it’s saying “I need proof in my life”. When I am traveling, or I meet someone, people say “can I take a picture with you” like this [she mimes standing next to her and making a selfie]. And it has been studied by sociologists and historians because it’s something very new in civilization, that not only images are everywhere and easy to make, but we want to have memories of ourselves. So people do that.

When at the time, when I was young, people would bring a child to a photographer. And the child would be on a shiny pedestal, and the baby lying on its belly, or sitting, very posed, and it was an act, you know?

I even made a short film about it called Ydessa. And at the time, in Germany, before the war, they would always take a teddy bear with them and go into the studio with the teddy bear. The child or the couple would pose. It was like an art that would last for their whole life, they would have a photo. But the questions in this film are everywhere eight years later.

It’s very democratic in a way but still, some people now think of photos differently. And a lot of people are on Instagram and they put a lot of images, beautiful images, private images. They're beautiful. I look at a lot of Instagram pictures of people I don’t know. And I say, “Oooh he went there and did that, or she did this?” A woman that I knew, but I lost for years, and suddenly there are images of Mexico - she must have been traveling there. She’s in Mexico! Oh! And then she is back.

So it’s like in a way it becomes transparent. Like you leave information about yourself. Like all this Twitter and Facebook. Do you use them?”

Yes. Do you?

“No.”

I saw a beautiful photo of you by the artist JR on Instagram.

“Right because we’ve done a film together, we just finished now. It will open in June in France. We got along very well. We really did a good job of documentary filmmaking.

We went to the countryside and met people in villages. The title in French is: Visage Villages. We met people, listened to them, and I took photos of them, and he enlarged them and made huge images out of them.

And we met people who spoke beautifully to us. It was like taking gifts of things we were seeing. So it’s a documentary but made by both of us. The joke is it’s both of us: we only have 55 years of difference.”

So it’s a documentary about making art?

“Yes, it’s about art, how do we perceive what is happening to us, what is happening to the people we meet. I got very excited to make that film. And the editing I got very precise, like I do in editing. That’s more my thing. But we agree on everything. We chose the music together.

He’s a very interesting artist. He did one work in New York City where he made a 150 foot tall image of an immigrant (20 year old Elmar from Azerbaijan) on the ground in a huge public space in the middle of New York [outside the Flatiron building].

For me it was very touching, because at the same time he is making a statement for immigrants, but people are stepping on it. So it’s the doublethink we all have about the problem, we all want to think about immigrants, we have compassion, but we don’t take them home.

Now in the last two years, we have been facing so many crises. The migrant crisis, all over the world, it’s not new, it has always existed, but in the last two years it has become so important.

We don’t know how cinema can capture… There have been documentaries going to Calais, filming the people in the water being saved… How can cinema even help the situation?

photo by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

photo by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

Sometimes I think in a selfish way, you know, we cannot grab all the misery and carry it in our bags.

Sometimes I feel we have to do what I feel I have to do as an artist. To do things. Maybe sharing with people. Sharing emotion, sharing information. But, I am just, too… I cannot change the world. I can only change some relation between some people in the cinema. It’s a very modest work. Touching very few people. I mean it’s, we have no possibility to do much more than the very modest work of artists. That’s the way I feel.”

Did you have any strange experiences at the airport coming into NYC?

“No. It was the usual line to show your papers. I’m in a way lucky or not lucky cause I don’t walk very well, so I have a wheelchair, and for the wheelchair we have another line, and it’s 15 minutes instead of one hour and 15 minutes. It’s a good day to be old.”

There is a problem that we are making documentaries—maybe it’s their form, or approach—that are not changing anything. You mention you always have to find “a way of telling it” for your films so they do not misrepresent people.

“I like to make films about people who aren’t spoken about.

What I think is because I know… The way you are involved in what’s happening in the world is relative. Because I cannot make a change about the desires of millions of people that want to move.

I’ve been hurt, in the heart, just by watching these images when they are on a boat and they die in the ocean and sometimes they are saved. But we cannot save them. We cannot go and take another boat and save three people and give them food and bring them home.

So we are assisting as a terrible spectacle all the hunger and migration in the world.

So I say, as artists, you can only do what we know how to do, which includes friendship, sharing, transmission.

And the documentary we made with JR was happening during the attack at the Bataclan, and the attack on Belgium. We were in the middle of it, and we went there. And we filmed things, but we won’t use [that footage].

We cannot solve the problem. We can just speak with other people in the country, people who look for peace, people who look for sharing. Because… The lack is that, it’s there. We have to share with people, share words, share time. And if the film reflects that, it’s a drop of… Friendship and compassion in the world.

That’s all we can do. That’s all we know how to do. And I try to do it well so the documentary is well done, not so much with technique, but with how it really approaches people. And approaching people is already one step to peace. Listening to them. Giving time like I did for the Gleaners, listening to the Gleaners. I made a film about squatters, about widows. Listening to people who nobody listens to is a step in understanding in the world.

It’s like nothing in a way, the world is cruel, and chaotic. But I have decided, especially aging, to try to spend good time with people. I cannot change a life. You know in the country they have big problems with Europe, with farmers, and people who grow food? And nothing can help them because Europe is fine, but not fine, it’s so complicated.

So we try to speak to them, listen to what they do, how they do it. But we cannot change law, commerce, prices, the crisis of people closing their shops and little shops because they cannot compete with corporate supermarkets. We see that. I’ve seen the world change so much since I’m young. But you know, on another side, I’ve been through the Bomb, the War, The Holocaust. What happened in my life has been so horrible, that sometimes I say, “Maybe it’s not so bad now”. But then you see the migrant crisis.

I shouldn’t speak about that now. It makes me feel bad.”

I’m sorry.

“Well no, you know, it’s for you. I’m becoming boring.”

Not at all. Young people right now in the US are thinking about resistance and what that means. Which means something enormous for you over the course of your life. I’m curious when you were working on really radical work like Black Panthers and Far From Vietnam. When you were younger did you feel that art could change the world?

“I changed in that… I became convinced things could change. I fought a lot as a Feminist, because we succeeded with a lot of marching and writing and screaming to change the world so people could decide if they want children or not. I mean, it seems simple to say that, but birth control was an incredible step in society.

Can you imagine for all these centuries that women just had to accept it? My grandmother had twelve children. Things have been so radically different that the fight of women all over the world, and American women have been fighting for that so strongly also, and I have been accompanying this too.

And I remember we had problems in France, I don’t know if you know that, like we had a 17 year old girl put in jail for having an abortion, and we had to go the Palais Justice, the court, and scream and make manifestations and sign petitions, and we fought until the law changed, until birth control and abortion were legal. And still now there are people fighting against it. In America you have a problem about regression about abortion. It’s terrible. Abortion is not a good thing, but it gives women a choice.”

[Agnès was one of the signatories of Simone De Beaviour’s Manifesto of the 343, which fought for women to have the right to abortion in France and in doing so put all its signatories at risk of criminal prosecution.]

“The feminist movement, I have been very much involved in. And people ask “are you still a feminist?” Yes! More than ever. Because it’s going back sometimes, even now.

But in the world of cinema, at least in France, we have a lot of women directors arriving, and not only directors, directors of photography, sound mixers, producers. Just in the French cinema week here today [Lincoln Center’s Rendezvous with French Cinema in NYC] we have at least five women directors who came with films.

And I said to women when I started: learn. Learn the camera, learn sound, learn electricity, learn editing. And at least in our country, in France, we have an incredible amount of women working in the film industry. And writing film and directing film.

It doesn’t mean I love them all. In the same way I don’t love all men’s films, or young people’s films. But they have the opportunity to show it and to be in the world of cinema, and with the possibility of equality. I know a lot of Women DP who are chosen by men directors. So things have changed on that level. It’s little, but it’s important.”

Who are the French women directors whose work you admire?

“Celine Sciamma, Patricia Mazuy, Emanuelle Bercot, Maïwenn, Sandrine Veysset, Claire Denis, and Katell Quillévéré.”

Is there anything about France that you think has attributed to increasing the number of women writing and directing?

“Well because, in the art world, France is very open. It used to be that the pay of the women was less than the pay of men, in factories, in other work. But not in the cinema. We have this union who give us union wages. You can be white or black or a woman and you get the same money for the same work. In the factories not yet, women’s work is still fighting for equality.

How did we get talking about all this? Let’s go to the seaside… Forget about all the struggles…”

photo by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

photo by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

*

In the hallway of the gallery, on the way to Agnès’ beach, are three photograph portraits of herself as she grows older.

“I have a formula: I switched from old filmmaker to young visual artist. Because people want definition. You are this or that. And I like to feel that I’m everything. I’ve had three lives: as a photographer, a filmmaker, and as a visual artist.

I am in time. I’m old. I’ve been crossing time for years. I love the idea that even with a bad memory I can pick something which is years ago or someone I met years ago and I am here, and I enjoy it.”

In the 1950s Agnès was filming and taking photographs in China and Cuba. I ask her if she’s returned to either country recently.

“Yes I went [to Cuba] once, when I did Jacoqut Des Nantes [her film about her late husband Jacques Demy], but I don’t feel like going back. I knew it when it was so beautiful, when it was so… People were so excited, there was a real revolution you know, and I could feel people happy for the change, but then it has changed so much it became something else that I cannot cope with. So I keep my memory and my film. But it’s dated. It’s 1962, 1963 that’s it. The same way I filmed the Black Panthers, and two years later they were in pieces. Film sometimes is just very dated, and it’s interesting, because even in Cleo to 5 to 7, there is a radio that gives the news, it’s interesting to know that everything is written in precise time.” 

Recently, she traveled to China with her films and art. A young film student pointed out that Cleo From 5 to 7, which she says takes place in exact, real time, has a mistake: a jump of 4 seconds. She admitted he was right, and he said, “Don’t make me believe time is perfect, you made one jump.”

“Cinema language accepts that you go from one place to another. You see them in a house, packing their luggage. Then they are on a train. You accept they went from the house to the train. There’s a gap in time. Sometimes you can put the time, shut the time together and hey, that was before and it’s still alive. So the past doesn’t mean so much to me because it’s always there, here. Not as a memory thing, but making it alive again. Not crying. The past is there, you take it, you bring it on the table, it’s here. It’s still alive. And I have a bad memory, it’s ok. What comes up, I grab, and other times it goes back into the sea.”

*

And so there we are, on Agnès’ beach, before I take the photograph.

“Sit if you can. It’s so peaceful. It’s better to be quiet.”

And we do.

“This is the representation of my favorite landscape in the world. The seaside. A quiet. No tempest, no sailing, no swimming, no boat. Nothing. Just the quiet. But I chose three ways to represent it. One photo. But it has movement in it. Wind on the foam. The photo becomes cinema. And then you have sand. Sea sand. The three representations for me compose what I feel. I hope you like it. It’s interesting. If you give yourself time to sit here, time is part of the work. Time of watching, and time of image, and where we are, becomes part of the art. Because a little piece of reality for me implies reinvention.”

A few days later I find out that Agnès has sold her editing studio of thirty years, the former hardware store she's known since moving to live on Rue Daguerre in 1954, in order to help pay for her new film, Visages Villages.

I ask her one final question: In all your work as a photographer, as a filmmaker, as an artist, what have you come to discover is the difference between media and memory?

“I don’t know, because you can see in your own life and use your memory to remember what you have. That’s not my point. My point is to get a piece of the past and bring it into my life of today.

So I don’t have the feeling that I wish to tell you my memories. I’ve done that in some of my films. What I do now, is always: make it alive now. I’ve been loving the seaside since I’m young. And it’s set where I did my first film, La Pointe Courte. By bringing the sea into a new medium, into the art world, it makes it alive. It’s not my past. I don’t care so much. I’ve been through a lot of things in my life. What I love is to make the now and here very important. That’s how I stand life.

It’s sharing what I do with people. My work is to propose, to propose the notion, to propose surprises, my view. That’s life. That’s what we call… The artist.”

And after another while passes, listening and watching the sea, she kindly asks me to take a photograph.

This conversation was edited for differences in language and for clarity. A few of Agnès’ words were taken from her public talk at the French Institute Alliance Française for context and insight. Invaluable assistance on French film history was provided by Ivan Čerečina. Research on La Pointe Courte was greatly aided by Agnès’ discussion with Rachel Rakes at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 2015.


Aaron Stewart-Ahn makes films and loves cats, bicycles, and films.