5 November 2019

Agnès Varda's Les Plages d'Agnès | The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

Les Plages d'Agnès (which inevitably translates terribly in English) is Varda's autobiography, but of course a very quirky one: imagine any other film director setting up mirrors and old family photos on the sand. As is to be expected, there are similarities between this film and Jacquot de Nantes, Varda's tribute to her husband Jacques Demy.

At the beginning of Les Plages Varda says that if she were split down the middle there would be a beach, that the North Sea and sand were a beginning for her. She starts with a beach in Belgium, and states that her childhood in Belgium is lovingly remembered by the beaches she went to in that country during her early holidays: Knokke-Le-Zoute (which reminds me of Brel's song), Blankenberg, Ostende, Mariakerke, Middelkerke, La Panne and Zeebrugge.

Varda's family fled from Belgium to Sète – a town usually evoking Paul Valéry and Georges Brassens who were born and buried there – which holds particularly important memories for her. It was there too that she directed her first film, La Pointe Courte (1954), which is an experimental film inspired by William Faulkner's The Wild Palms (1939). This book today is usually called If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, which consists of two interwoven short stories: 'The Wild Palms' and 'Old Man'.1

Other beaches included in the film are in the peninsula of Noirmoutier, where Jacques Demy had much earlier spent his holidays, and where the couple bought a former windmill overlooking the beach at La Guérinière.

Venice Beach also features within the context of the hippie period of free love and the Black Panthers, etc.

As opposed to what the title might suggest, Les Plages d'Agnès isn't just about beaches, but is a kind of collage with reconstructions of Varda's memories – old photos, clips from films, modern filming of places mentioned, reflections on the past, etc. A delight.

La Pointe Courte was a small fishing village now incorporated into Sète itself.
2  Varda's forename was 'Arlette' because she was conceived in Arles, although she changed this name officially to Agnès.

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