Film by Agnès Varda and JR won top doc prize at Cannes before landing Academy Award nomination
Faces Places didn't manage to claim the Academy Award for Documentary Feature -- it fell to Icarus on Sunday night. But it won numerous honors during a strong awards season run, including the top prize for documentary at the Cannes Film Festival.
The film by Agnès Varda, 89, and artist/photographer JR, 34, debuted Tuesday on Blu-ray, promising to expand viewership of a unique nonfiction film that has charmed audiences around the world. Faces Places (the French title is Visages Villages) qualifies as something of a travelogue: the filmmakers whose affection for each other warms the screen perambulated around France in a series of encounters with ordinary people.
They made their journey in a van equipped with a photo booth. JR took photos of some of their interviewees, printing the images in large scale and affixing them to walls, railcars, shipping containers and other grand surfaces. The whimsical project allowed their subjects, and the filmmakers themselves, to muse about life, aging, memory and meaning.
Below are quotes from the filmmakers in conversation with Nonfictionfilm.com.
Agnès didn't want to make another movie and we didn't know each other and it was not part of the DNA of Agnès, of her way of working, to collaborate on the writing or directing [of a film]. She'd never done it for 89 years so why would she start now?
Visages Villages was a success in France... The Charles Cohen Group, they named it 'Faces Places' [for the U.S. audience] which sounds nice. It's more or less the meaning. 'Faces Places' is nothing like 'village,' but it sounds fine, right.
She wanted to do it and do it now. She said, 'I don't know if I'll be here next year.'
My films are seen, many of them, but never made money for me or for the producers.
At some point we would doubt everything. I remember we filmed each other talking about it and thinking that maybe the subject of the film was to know if there was a film or not a film.
Most of the people JR and me met -- they were damn interesting people. All of them are strange or sad or nostalgic, like the farmer who just is married to his computer all day long, [cultivating] huge spaces that he works alone.
Listening to people, giving them a lot of empathy, a lot of love and because of that they were very open, very interesting. They talked. It's not a question-answer. It's a conversation.
We really forgot about the age difference from the beginning... We were just two filmmakers and artists trying to create together and forgetting that there was 50 years difference in between.
I realize by having this nomination it's already getting a prize because Agnes has never been nominated her whole life... We are already going there so happy that we can be there together.
JR, like me, we do other things. We do exhibitions, we do installations, we do things in galleries, we speak to people. I do lectures here and there... So I'm doing what I have to do as an honest filmmaker. And I'm fine.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.