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Faces Places (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Faces Places


Featuring Agnès Varda, JR, Jean-Paul Beaujon, Amaury Bossy, Yves Boulen, Jeannine Carpentier, Marie Douvet, Claude Ferchal, Claude Flaert, Vincent Gils, Laurent Levesque, Nathalie Maurouard, Patricia Mercier, Pony-Soleil-Air-Sauvage-Nature, Morgane Riou, Sophie Riou, Nathalie Schleehauf, Clemens Van Dungern and Daniel Vos.

Directed by Agnès Varda and JR.

Distributed by Cohen Media Group. 89 minutes. Rated PG.

Faces Places is a documentary that rides on a simple, whimsical idea: What if an 88-year-old film director and a 33-year old photographer got in a van, drove around the small towns and villages of the French countryside, talking to the locals, taking giant pictures of them and pasting them up on local buildings, creating a sort of extreme form of street art?

It sounds a bit odd, perhaps, but it makes for one of the sweetest, most charming little films you’ll likely see this year.

Agnès Varda and JR are very different types of people, but respected each other’s work. Therefore, when JR suggested they work together on a film, she was open to the idea. This openness became a true and total collaboration.

Varda is a long-time French filmmaker, whose work stretches back decades and dozens of features, short and TV films. (There is some fascinating archival footage here of her working with her long-time friend and mentor Jean-Luc Godard back in the 1950s.)

JR is a Banksy-type graphic artist and photographer (like Banksy, he will not admit his real name) who has also dabbled in filmmaking in recent years.

They may not seem like the type of people to hit it off, but they become some of the most charming film friends in recent years, their different life experiences overshadowed by their strong devotion and love of art and the act of creation.

However, while this film is about them, they also want it to be even more about their subjects. Therefore, we meet and really learn about many intriguing local eccentrics, farmers, factory workers, restaurateurs, carpenters, volunteers, men, women, children, cats (Varda’s cat is adorable!), anyone they happen to run across.

We visit charming little villages, energy plants, ghost towns, beach towns, huge cargo piers, all sorts of different and intriguing spots.

Each place, we get to know a little bit about the locals, before Varda and JR leave behind their own particular form of tribute.

Not everybody is completely thrilled with their new immortality. One shy local waitress felt a little overwhelmed by how her picture had made her into a bit of a local celebrity. However, most of the people are flattered and a bit awed to see their giant likenesses on the sides of barns, houses and restaurants.

As the film goes on, the artists get a little more experimental with their art. Eventually some of the artworks end up not making that much sense – particularly a giant close-up of Varda’s toes which are put on the side of a train oil car. That’s okay, though, Faces Places shows us that art can be offbeat, quirky, maybe even make no real sense. As long as it affects you in some way, it is worth trying. Sometimes, it is just as important to make you question things as it is to stimulate our beauty receptacles.

Interestingly, this is the second documentary about giant photographs which has played in recent months. (The other was Errol Morris’ The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography.) In a culture where every iPhone has a camera and a selfie is considered a portrait, it is nice to see the power and art of traditional photography getting its due again.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: November 3, 2017.


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