Though Agnès Varda claims in her cine-essay The Beaches Of Agnès that she’s not nostalgic by nature, the movie belies her point. Starting with a re-visitation to the site and characters of her 1954 debut film La Pointe Courte, Varda jumps from one memory to another, recalling her adventures in big-time moviemaking, the life and death of her husband Jacques Demy, her global political engagement, the impoverished-but-wonderful people she’s met around the world, and all her lovely friends in the French New Wave. Though “the beach” is a recurring theme—whether it’s in France, California, or elsewhere—The Beaches Of Agnès is held together primarily by Varda’s wide-ranging interests and formidable storytelling skills. The movie is a digression built on a digression, branching near-infinitely.
As such, The Beaches Of Agnès can be a little hard to follow at times. Varda presumes a lot of foreknowledge on the audience’s part about her films, her life, and her times, and she also presumes that other people will find the simple passage of time—and its effect on people and places—as fascinating as she does. But for the most part it is fascinating, in large part because Varda approaches her own life with such puckish wit. She may pontificate, but she never loses her sense of play. In The Beaches Of Agnès, she recreates a lifetime of parking woes with the help of a cardboard car, has a conversation with a cartoon cat meant to represent filmmaker Chris Marker, rebuilds her old Paris office in the street (surrounded by sand, to keep the motif intact), and so on. One anecdote unlocks another, all meant to express how the past surrounds the present, always clearly within our view. If The Beaches Of Agnès has no clear structure, that’s only because neither does Varda’s life—except in retrospect.