“Faces Places” played this last week at the 10th annual Citizen Jane Film Festival to a packed Mecklenburg Theater on the Stephens College campus. The film is directed by legendary director Agnes Varda and the enigmatic artist known only as JR. It follows the two as they embark across the French countryside, searching for interesting faces in interesting places (hence the name). The unlikely pairing of the veteran French cinema director and parisian street artist is an interesting enough premise on its own despite the film’s brilliance beyond its setup.

Firstly, the screening was very enjoyable. I was working as a volunteer for the film festival, and the work done behind the scenes to make the entire event work needs to be acknowledged and appreciated. This being said, the Blu-Ray player broke during the screening, robbing me of viewing the last five minutes of the film, but this is easily forgiven as what I saw was great.

Regardless of technical difficulties, “Faces Places” is a curious little documentary, following Agnes Varda and JR as they visit various small French villages across the country and construct paste murals of the people there. The murals are constructed from black and white photographs printed out on thin paper in segments, which are then glued to the sides of walls to form a massive image. This specific variety of street art is what JR is known for. Further, the auteur photographer is never seen without his sunglasses on, which he combines with his strange name and unique style of art, creating an urban artistic persona for himself.

Agnes Varda sits in an interview.

Director Agnes Varda was born in Belgium but made her name in French cinema. (Source: Wikimedia)

Each town visit often coincides with a little parable from Varda or sometimes JR. Some of the towns have histories with either JR or Varda, while some are interesting enough on their own to carry a parable. These little stories carry emotional weight in a wide variety of subtle ways, ranging from a comment about commercialism to discussing the never-ending passing of time and degradation.

The final product is heartwarming in a disguised, benign way, something that makes you a little sad at first but sticks with you. What I felt leaving the theater was profoundly different to how I felt hours later. The more I dwell on what I watched and rethink the context of it all, the more melancholy and thoughtful it makes me. The film has a quiet but powerful message about mortality, relationships and death. It examines the past and the present as a single entity, and presents this in a beautiful collage of pictures and parables.

On a note about Agnes Varda specifically, she has had a long and impactful career in French New Wave cinema and beyond. Her influence cannot be understated, and her effect on the industry is as subtly powerful as her work. Her background profoundly colors her comments throughout “Faces Places,” and doing a little bit of research on her, and to a lesser extent JR, would greatly enrich your viewing.

“Faces Places” is a fantastic film. I would recommend it wholeheartedly for anyone to watch. It is moving, funny, cute and melancholy all at the same time. After watching it, I’m already planning on visiting my grandparents as soon as possible.

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