The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

A profoundly candid and joyous cine-memoir from the inimitable Agnès Varda

The Very Best



Documentary, Drama
Agnès Varda, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford
110 min


Unlike M. Night Shyamalan’s beaches, Agnès Varda’s make you young again.

What it's about

In this essay-like film, pioneering director Agnès Varda makes new art out of a backward look at her full life.

The take

It’s a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable ability to glean so much raw beauty and truth from the world that this autobiographical documentary is such a rewarding watch, even for people unfamiliar with her. The Beaches finds the pioneering director in reflective mode as she looks back at her work and life, but her artistic impulses are by no means stagnant: she approaches the past with the same — if not more of the — generous candor and youthful spirit that colored her career.

It’s also a testament to Varda’s inimitable artistic touch that she turns a usually-bleak subject — mortality — into something this life-affirming. The Beaches was made when she was 81, aware of her own ticking clock and still nursing the decades-long loss of so many loved ones (chiefly, husband Jacques Demy). Just as her grief-stricken reflections don’t overwhelm the film with sadness, the whimsical impulses she indulges here — like constructing a beach on the street in front of her office — don’t blunt the sharpness of her candor. The overall effect is bittersweet and profoundly inspiring: as with the mirrors she places in front of the tide in the film's first scene, she’s showing us it’s possible to face the inescapable with a twinkle in your eye.

What stands out

Here, as ever, Varda has a way of talking about herself that never feels self-indulgent. That’s partly because she’s such a fascinating subject — a pioneer of the French New Wave, she reinvented herself as an installation artist and documentary memoirist late in life — but it’s also because she's so self-effacing, always willing to turn the camera around to give her collaborators their flowers. Her generosity also extends to us through her profound, intimate honesty, as she lays open both the painful and joyful moments of her life. More than anything, that last quality makes The Beaches an always-enriching watch, one in which new personal resonance can be gleaned every time.

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This film is an introspective journey through Agnès Varda’s life and art. With creativity and warmth, Varda weaves memories, beaches, and cinema into a poignant reflection on existence. This documentary stands as an elegant and personal testament to a visionary filmmaker, resonating deeply with those who engage with it.

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