HomeNews & Views Foreign Flick Friday: Unlikely Duo Charms in French Documentary, Takes Cannes’ Prize

Foreign Flick Friday: Unlikely Duo Charms in French Documentary, Takes Cannes’ Prize


Iconic filmmaker Agnès Varda and street photographer JR met in 2015 and shortly thereafter set out on the road to co-direct a film set in small French villages. Equipped with a van doubling as a traveling photo-booth, they invited working-class locals to have their photos taken, printed the results in large-scale, and used them to create open-air galleries of the portraits pasted onto buildings, walls, container boxes, and elsewhere.

“She is nearly 90; he is 34. She worked with Jean-Luc Godard; he looks like Jean-Luc Godard (and, much to Varda’s consternation, will similarly not take off his sunglasses). And yet, the movie is barely five minutes old before it’s clear that these two are a screen duo for the ages. From the charmingly animated opening credits, to the whimsical voiceover in which Varda and JR imagine all the places they might have met — cue footage of Varda dancing in a nightclub — the pair establish an instant rapport that feels too perfect to be faked.”1

Faces, Places (Visages, Villages in French) is a film of many quiet lessons. The Guardian notes, “If there’s a message in Visages, Villages (both to us, and from Varda to her young friend) is that one does not need to be a tortured and nasty person to make great art.”2 But we’ll argue that there are messages for the non-artist here as well…

It’s a film about the individual people who make up communities and about appreciating each part of a whole. It’s also about the luck of seemingly chance encounters and questions about the people—for some reason or another—who we never do get to meet. It leaves us wondering that maybe it takes a full career in filmmaking and a fuller life to have this sort of calm perspective on the ephemeral nature of everything. When Varda says, “Every new person I meet feels like my last one,” we can’t help but marvel at the beauty in that.

Faces, Places took the Golden Eye prize for documentaries at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.3

Our only regret? That we weren’t able to tag along with Varda and JR for the actual journey!

It’s movie night, so grab the popcorn and watch this trailer with us. Then tell us what you think @LeadWLanguages on social media.

{{Looking for tips on how to use films or shows to improve your language skills? See our inaugural Foreign Flick Friday post.}}

Love documentaries? Be sure to check out our post on the Turkish language film, Kedi. Or interested in opportunities related to the French language? See our Lead with French page for student testimonials, study abroad blogs, and information about scholarships and college programs.

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