Life's a Beach 

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The Beaches of Agnès
Directed by Agnès Varda

With The Beaches of Agnès, filmmaker Agnès Varda looks back on a life lived and a life spent in the cinema, which turn out to be pretty much the same thing. Blurring the boundary between memory and art, the director re-visits the locales that shaped her formative years, counterpointing her own wry recollections with home movies, clips from her (often-documentary) feature films and newly staged re-creations, while refusing to distinguish between the different levels of discourse.

Taking us through the trajectory of a career, Varda begins in her native Brussels, tracking her progress from young schoolgirl studying photography through her first forays into film and her later political activism. But rather than subject her life to any stringent analysis, Varda keeps things loose, alternating between the playful — a mode that extends to the dense and often witty editing — and the elegiac, much of the latter centered on the memory of her late husband, Jacques Demy.

Above all, this is a woman having fun in her chosen medium. From the meta-play in the opening scene as Varda sets up shots on the beach to a later sequence where she pilots a cardboard cut-out of a car to illustrate the difficulty she used to have parking, hers is a joy contagious in its art. If, as Varda admits early on, she “do[esn’t] know what it means to recreate” the scenes of her youth, she’s able to hit on a quick response: “it’s just a game. It’s cinema.” Which is a fit epitaph indeed, for a life spent in films.

Opens July 1 at Film Forum

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