4 by Agnes Varda
Filmmaker Agnes Varda was one of the key precursors to the French New Wave, both in her daring (self-financing her first feature, La Pointe Courte, on a shoestring with no guarantee of distribution) and in her technique (embracing a bold but simple visual style and a willingness to experiment with both time, rhythm and the conventional narrative structure), and the fact that she was a woman at a time when there were few female directors in Europe makes her accomplishments all the more remarkable. While Varda is recognized as a major figure in French cinema, a relatively small number of her films have received decent distribution in the United States, but once again the Criterion Collection has stepped forward to give a deserving artist their due and Four By Agnes Varda is a DVD box set that presents a quartet of her key dramatic features in superb quality. While Criterion had previously released discs of Cleo From 5 to 7 and Vagabond, both films have been given an upgrade for this set, and La Pointe Courte and Le Bonheur receive their North American DVD premiere in this package. La Pointe Courte has been transferred to disc in its original full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1, while the other three movies have been given widescreen transfers, letterboxed at 1.66:1 on conventional televisions and enhanced for anamorphic playback on 16:9 monitors, framed in their preferred ratio. The visual quality of all four films is superb here, with the original elements looking practically flawless, though the painterly use of color in Le Bonheur and Vagabond makes them all the more impressive over their black-and-white siblings. (Varda personally approved the transfers for all four films except La Pointe Courte.) The audio for the four features has been mastered in Dolby Digital Mono, and the results are crisp, well-detailed and impressive given their age. All four films are in French, with optional English language subtitles. A wide variety of relevant bonus materials have been included on all four discs. La Pointe Courte features a recent interview with Varda in which she talks about the making of the film, and a 1964 segment from the French television program Cineastes de nore Temps in which she looks back on the challenges of making her first few films. Cleo from 7 to 9 is jam-packed with extras, most notably Remembrances, a documentary on the production of the movie in which Varda and several members of the cast are reunited in the locations where their scenes were shot. Also on board are highlights from a French television special starring Madonna in which she talks with Varda about the film; a short film that traces Cleo's path through Paris in the present day; Les Fiances du pont Macdonald, a short comic film seen in a sequence in the sequence in the movie theater (and stars noted funnyman Jean-Luc Godard); L'opera Mouffe, a 1958 short directed by Varda; a gallery of art by Hans Baldung Grien that's featured in the movie; and the picture's original theatrical trailer. Le Bonheur also gets a healthy supply of bonus material, including five recent documentary shorts by Varda in which the film's leading ladies discuss their work on the picture, four intellectuals take part in a round-table discussion of the film and the issue of happiness; actor Jean-Claud Drouunot revisits the village where the movie was shot and the locals who took part in the production; and two brief meditations on how people perceive happiness. The disc also contains a 1964 television report on the making of Le Bonheur, a 1998 interview with Varda, a 1958 short by Varda profiling the Cote d'Azur, and the movie's original trailer. And finally, Vagabond includes three shorts on the making of the film from Varda, in which she talks with leading actress Sandrine Bonnaire, supporting player Marthe Jarnais, and composer Joanna Bruzdowicz; also featured is a 1986 radio interview with Varda and author Nathalie Sarraute, and the original theatrical trailer for Vagabond. Accompanying this box set is a perfect-bound book which includes credits for all four films, thoughts from Varda on each feature, and thoughtful essays from Chris Darke, Adrian Martin, Amy Taubin and Ginette Vincendeau. Given the size of Agnes Varda's body of work, this box set isn't quite expansive enough to be a truly definitive look at her career, but there simply isn't a better introduction to this filmmakers oeuvre available in North America; these are four landmark films that have been given a beautiful presentation on disc, and anyone with a passion for European cinema owes it to themselves to add this to their personal library.