Agnès Varda on making films, admiring Angelina Jolie and winning a 'side Oscar'

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

A: I don't think it will help because I no longer find money for films; this is it. Making cinema that goes into theaters has become so difficult, because we are in competition with some incredible films, well made, with a lot of special effects. That's what young audiences want. Big films make money because they cost money. This is the Hollywood system. I don't belong to it.

So (getting this award) is a surprise, and I love good surprises. So I take it, I say, "Thank you, I'm delighted." But I feel it has been a mistake. No, it's not a mistake, because I know that this honorary Oscar -- it goes to decent people. Last year I know there was another documentary filmmaker, Frederick Wiseman, who got it.

Q: Jean-Luc Godard got it too.

A: Godard is more assertive than I am, even. He's an adventurer. And he does things I really love and respect. We need people like him. He doesn't make money, either, but I think he's necessary. Some people are necessary. What do you think "Metropolis" made at the time, when it came out? Think it was a success? No. But it's an incredible, beautiful experience.

Q: Is there a difference between how your films are received at home in France, and how they are received abroad?

A: Some people have recognized my films as being valuable in the search for what cinema can do. The search is not as violent as it is in Godard's films, but (more in line with the films of) Alain Resnais and Jacques Demy, doing things that have not been done before. But I am in the margins of cinema. In France my films are very well-known, but they don't make what you'd call big money. They make enough money to survive, but there's no way that I'm bankable. I cannot say, "I wish to make a film. Give me the money." It doesn't work like this. I've never had one film made with easy money, never. Even being old, even having a closet full of awards -- I got a Golden Lion, I got a Silver Bear, I got a lot of animals. But each time I want to make a film, it's the same. I'm not bankable.

Q: Your last several films have been documentaries, many of them intensely personal.

A: In a documentary you have to be modest, because the subject is the people you film, and I love that. By making a documentary, I still learn something from real life. And then I try to make a link between the film and the audience. So far it's worked. In "Faces Places," JR and I earned the respect of unknown people, we shed light on them, we listened to them. We had a good time, and I felt that it was one more documentary in which I question: How can we approach people who have no power? How could we achieve more empathy, more understanding between people?


Q: You got to know a lot of people during the making of "Faces Places," and you made a point of never asking them about their politics.

A: We never spoke about politics with people, and we knew that maybe some of them were going to vote for things we don't like. We decided it was best to skip the subject. I didn't want to know. They exist as persons. They deserve that. It's good to speak to them, to listen to what they want to say, how they feel.

And look, it's not that I don't know about the world, the disgusting world -- the news on television, the news in the papers, the messages of hate, the separations between religions and between countries, the horrible experiences of migrants all over the world. But I don't want to add another layer of drama, another layer of terrifying life. I really wish to be on the side of a daydream, of utopia. I want to be on the side of the question: Could art help people? Could cinema help people think about their lives?

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