Among the filmmakers who emerged from France’s New Wave, Agnes Varda demonstrated a singular vision only partially related to her gender. The American Cinematheque presents an extensive homage to her entitled “The Light in Her Eyes: A Tribute to Agnes Varda.” The filmmaker will be on hand during the overview, which bowed Thursday night and runs through June 20 at Raleigh Studios.
Trained as an art historian and working as a still photographer, Varda segued into the theater following assignments about the Theatre National Populaire. However, she felt constrained by the stage. With no formal education or experience — and the most modest knowledge of movies — she made “La Pointe courte” in 1954. The film was hailed for its innovative storytelling, chronicling parallel tales of a disintegrating marriage and a group of commercial fisherman.
Since then, Varda has made dozens of films, including eight fiction features. As a whole, they defy categorization. The features range from the nightmarish cinema verite of “Cleo from 5 to 7” to the sunny feminism of “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” to the grim nihilism of “Vagabond.”
But the features reveal only so much of her oeuvre. Her docus and docu-style films cover an enormous range of interests and approaches. “L’Opera Mouffe” is a rumination on pregnancy, while “Mur Murs” focuses in a quite extraordinary way on outdoor muralists. She lauded Castro in “Salut les Cubains” in 1963, a hippie California beatnik relative in “Uncle Yanco” and her late filmmaker husband, Jacques Demy, in “Jacquot de Nantes.” The latter film, a special presentation at Cannes in 1991, prompted jury president Whoopi Goldberg to unsuccessfully wage a campaign to award the pic a special prize.
The one consistent thread in her work appears to be a desire to break down narrative walls. In “Lion’s Love,” made in Los Angeles in 1969, and her most recent film, “One Hundred and One Nights,” she fuzzes the borders of fact and fiction. “Nights,” a nod to the movies’ centenary, casts actor Michel Piccoli as Simon Cinema and has him interact with real-life stars, including Marcello Mastroianni, Robert De Niro, Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve, playing characters that resemble their screen personas.
The two weekends will feature several discussions with Varda. Further information and show times are available by calling the Cinematheque at (213) 466-FILM.