The Cannes Film Festival is saluting director Agnès Varda with its official poster, which depicts the filmmaker, then in her mid-20s, shooting her first feature, 1955’s “La Pointe Courte.”
The announcement reflects the enormous respect the director-cum-visual-artist had earned from Cannes and the film community worldwide as a pioneering director — the woman whose independent debut paved the way for the French New Wave. Later, Varda went on to make “Cléo from 5 to 7,” which premiered in competition at Cannes in 1962 and featured a cameo from “Breathless” director Jean-Luc Godard, whose own film career was catalyzed in part by her example. Varda died at 90 last month.
Varda was a regular at Cannes, whether or not she had a film to screen there — and she presented many, including “Jacquot de Nantes,” “The Gleaners and I,” and, most recently, “Faces Places” — and served on the jury in 2005, the year Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s film “The Child” won the Palme d’Or. In 2015, Varda was awarded an honorary Palme d’Or by the festival.
Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux has been a longtime champion and admirer of Varda. He was among a small group of people to speak at a tribute to Varda held at the Cinématheque Française the morning of her funeral in Paris, including Varda’s “Faces Places” co-director JR, who teared up behind his signature sunglasses. Actress Sandrine Bonnaire, who starred in her film “Vagabond”; Catherine Deneuve, who acted in films by both Varda and her late husband, Jacques Demy; and close friend and frequent collaborator Jane Birkin all paid their respects at the event.
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The funeral, which was held at the Montparnasse cemetery, drew an even larger crowd, including such French cinema greats as Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Corinne Marchand (star of “Cléo”), and Jean-Pierre Léaud (of “The 400 Blows”). The director’s children, Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy, shared personal memories of their mother, while Rosalie’s youngest son, Corentin, told a story about how, nine years earlier, he had been arrested for painting the tops of the traffic posts along the cemetery blue. Varda had come to the police station to bail him out, explaining to the cops that he had shown his “artistic streak.” The day before the funeral, Corentin painted the posts again, this time red with a crown of white in homage to his grandmother and her two-toned hair.
The ceremony ended with a performance of The Doors’ “L.A. Woman.” Varda and Jim Morrison were close friends when the singer lived in Paris, and it was she who arranged his burial in 1971 at Père Lachaise cemetery, which his fans still visit. Varda’s own admirers showed their love by leaving potatoes and sunflowers at her grave and on the front porch of her house a few blocks away on Rue Daguerre. For many, Varda’s gift was her ability to find uncommon beauty in things others find ordinary.
The Cannes Film Festival will take place May 14-25.