Cannes Film Festival Topper Remembers Agnes Varda, ‘An Artist Unlike Any Other’

Agnès was an artist. And like all artists, she made our lives different. She captured life through the most normal lens to reveal what is beautiful and strange about it, while also working tirelessly to expose the false truths. Her presence in the world was absolutely unique but also intuitive, such that nothing surprised us coming from her: an idea, a phrase, a photograph, a documentary.

It’s thanks to her film “The Gleaners and I” — which I saw at Cannes in 2000 as a simple festivalgoer — that, when I became artistic director a year later, I made it a point to program documentaries and essay films in the official selection. And what an extraordinary moment it was, in 2017, to welcome her for “Faces Places” in the grande salle of the Palais!

Agnès was the vital link in an invisible chain of women filmmakers, rubbing elbows with Alice Guy Blaché and Germaine Dulac, Ida Lupino and Dorothy Arzner. No doubt she will be remembered as the most important female director in the history of cinema. The lone woman among the men of the French New Wave, she and Jean-Luc Godard outlived them all. While she never distanced herself from the feminist fight, she rarely made that the central theme of her work. Rather, she aspired to be seen first as a photographer, a filmmaker, a creator in her own right. Not “because she was a woman,” but because she was an artist.

At the same time, what she brought to the history of cinema — her themes, scenes, casting ideas and gentle yet determined approach to filmmaking — all of this is unique and comes from the sensibility and creativity of a woman, a spouse, a mother. Those three titles, which she claimed totally and which made her who she was, undoubtedly nourished her imagination without ever limiting it, because her imagination was boundless.

In 2015, Pierre Lescure and the Cannes team gave her an honorary Palme d’Or. What earned her the applause was not just the admiration of the entire world but the words of her acceptance speech, the meaning she gave to the award when she spoke of her youth and encouraged the next generation to get involved.

In 2017, the Academy gave her an honorary Oscar, which was also an unforgettable moment — especially seeing her dance with Angelina Jolie. In 2018, she and Cate Blanchett led the women’s march up the steps of the Palais in Cannes. We were all overwhelmed, once again, by the admiration and the respect that everyone showed her.

Last Thursday, Agnès felt that she was about to leave us and called a few of her friends to say goodbye. I had the privilege of being one of them, but that didn’t lessen the shock or the grief of losing her, nor can it make up for all that she brought into our lives.

If, as François Truffaut claimed, Jean Renoir was the top man in French cinema, well then, Agnès Varda was surely his counterpart among women. Like him, she was someone of strong convictions, prepared to struggle for her cause — an artist unlike any other, an invaluable friend and an irreplaceable human being.

Thierry Frémaux is the artistic director of the Cannes Film Festival.

More Film

  • The Lion King

    Box Office: 'The Lion King' Crossing $100 Million Milestone

    Ahead of its domestic debut, Disney’s “The Lion King” is already roaring past $100 million in ticket sales globally. The hyper-realistic remake of the animated classic has generated $94.5 million from a handful of markets at the international box office and is expected to hit triple digits on Thursday. “The Lion King” opened Wednesday in [...]

  • 'It: Chapter Two' Trailer Released: Losers

    'It: Chapter Two' Trailer: Adult Losers Club Faces Off With Pennywise

    In the second trailer for “It: Chapter Two,” the Losers Club, now adults, return to face the evil force that is Pennywise. “Something happens to you when you leave this town, the farther away, the hazier it all gets,” says adult Mike in a voiceover. “But me, I never left. I remember all of it.” [...]

  • Richard Jenkins, Shane Paul McGhie Starring

    Richard Jenkins, Shane Paul McGhie to Star in Indie Comedy 'The Last Shift'

    “The Shape of Water” star Richard Jenkins and “What Men Want” actor Shane Paul McGhie have been cast in the independent comedy “The Last Shift.” The two will appear alongside Ed O’Neill, Da’Vine Joy Randolph (“High Fidelity”), Birgundi Baker (“The Chi”) and Allison Tolman (“Fargo”). Andrew Cohn is directing from his own script. “The Last [...]

  • The Band Doc 'Once Were Brothers'

    Robbie Robertson Documentary 'Once Were Brothers' to Open Toronto Film Festival

    “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” will rock the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary recounts the story of one of Canada’s musical legends — a man who served as both lead guitarist and primary songwriter on a group that introduced the likes of “The Weight” and “The Night [...]

  • Rounds

    Stephan Komandarev and Catalin Mitulescu Films Among Sarajevo's 23 World Premieres

    The latest films from Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev and Romania’s Catalin Mitulescu are among 23 world premieres competing for the Heart of Sarajevo awards at the 25th Sarajevo Film Festival. Komandarev’s 2017 film “Directions” played in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and his 2008 opus, “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner,” was [...]

  • Tommy JamesCousin Brucie 3rd Annual Palisades

    Tommy James Biopic 'Me, the Mob and the Music' in Development (EXCLUSIVE)

    Pop music star Tommy James and film producer Barbara DeFina are developing the biopic “Me, the Mob and the Music,” based on James’ autobiography. DeFina, whose credits include Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” and “GoodFellas,” and James have tapped three-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall to helm the film adaptation from a screenplay by Matthew Stone (“Intolerable [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content