Wednesday, 9 June 2010

7p., cuis., s. de b. ... à saisir (FRANCE/1984/AGNÈS VARDA)

Accompanying a shot of a celestially lit staircase, a man’s voice is heard musing on the suitability of an apartment which used to be part of a hospice. It soon becomes clear that the man is or was an estate agent, recalling the history of previous clients. As he narrates the story of a family who lived in the apartment twenty years ago, we see humans as well as waxwork figures enacting scenes from their life, the rooms decorated with still-life paintings. Colours, textures and lights transform the mood of different scenes, while age is conveyed solely through the faces and bodies of the actors. The film was made in the exhibition space of biologist and artist Louis Bec, who stars in the film as the aging father.

Agnès Varda, a mainstay of the French New Wave, appears to be channelling the Czechoslovak New Wave here, applying a theatrical, surrealistic mode of thinking to her use of the space, and a cheerful demeanour about the morbid subject of mortality. The family’s story is succinctly told through gentle vignettes, the nuclei of which are not solid events, but feelings and expressions. Varda uses different textures not only in the rooms, which are at different times covered in grass, feathers and soil, but also in dialogue – the phonemic richness of the father’s gerontological jargon is later mirrored in the children’s discussion about ‘bad’ words. Visually inventive and bizarrely touching, this Buñuelian short is a minor masterpiece in Varda’s impressive portfolio of work.

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