SLIFF 2017 Review – FACES PLACES
FACES PLACES screens at Plaza Frontenac Cinema (Lindbergh Blvd. and Clayton Rd, Frontenac, MO 63131) as part of this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival. Showings are Thursday, Nov. 9 at 4:30pm (purchase tickets HERE) and Sunday, Nov. 12 at 3pm (purchase tickets HERE).
What a charmer! Legendary French film director Agnes Varda and muralist/photographer JR take us on the most appealing of road trips. Varda is a founder of the French New Wave avant-garde film movement still actively making films, while artist JR specializes in placing giant photographic images on buildings and other surprising outdoor locations. At the time the film was shot, Varda was 88-years-old and JR was 33, she’s a tiny woman while he’s a tall man, yet they make a perfect team is this often comic but also though-provoking exploration of rural France. In FACES PLACES (Visage Village), they travel around France meeting ordinary people, taking photos, and turning them into striking giant photo art works plastered on walls and other large surfaces.
The van this unlikely pair travel in looks like a giant camera, and serves as a mobile photo booth that prints out large posters suitable for plastering on walls. The van attracts attention and also adds a touch of whimsy for the project. Although Varda, a short, round older woman, and JR, a tall, thin young man, look mismatched, they are the perfect team for this project. As they roll along on this road trip, the filmmaker and the artist joke, tease, debate artistic choices, and talk about life, art, and memories. In their travels, they also meet an array of ordinary people who have their own unique and fascinating stories.
The film has a stronger narrative line than one might expect, and one has to credit the legendary Varda for that. The director’s skills remain intact and her eye and instinct for interesting story in unexpected places is unerring. The film is a visual treat throughout, with well-framed and scenic shot after shot.
The murals they produce use photos of people with a connection to the building or outdoor location where the image will be placed. The images embody some of the human history of the place but they also have a good dose of whimsy and playfulness. JR’s previous projects include close-ups of eyes on round industrial storage tanks and other startling images. A similar sense of playing with perception fills the images Varda and JR create together.
But it is the entertaining, thoughtful interactions between these two that make this film so appealing and enjoyable. The back-and-forth banter between the two is warm, amusing, and insightful, as the two agree and disagree on artistic choices. Both share personal stories and indulge in impulsive, playful adventures. JR’s respect and affection towards the legendary Varda is touching, like a grandson’s, but Varda’s warmth and encouragement towards JR is just as appealing. One gets the sense these two have been friends forever but in fact met shortly before filming started. Clearly, the two just clicked, and that translated to magic and fun on-screen.
Filled with surprising and unexpectedly beautiful images of people and places, FACES PLACES is a perfect little gem of a film, a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, on the road with two fascinating and ever-curious people as they see what is around the next bend, in life and on the road. There is one word for this film: Wonderful!