The Complete Films of Agnès Varda
Program 8: No Shelter
A founder of the French New Wave who became an international art-house icon, Agnès Varda was a fiercely independent, restlessly curious visionary whose work was at once personal and passionately committed to the world around her. In an abundant career in which she never stopped expanding the notion of what a movie can be, Varda forged a unique cinematic vocabulary that frequently blurs the boundaries between narrative and documentary, and entwines loving portraits of her friends, her family, and her own inner world with a social consciousness that was closely attuned to the 1960s counterculture, the women’s liberation movement, the plight of the poor and socially marginalized, and the ecology of our planet. This comprehensive collection places Varda’s filmography in the context of her parallel work as a photographer and multimedia artist—all of it a testament to the radical vision, boundless imagination, and radiant spirit of a true original for whom every act of creation was a vital expression of her very being.
Disc eight in Criterion’s box set The Complete Films of Agnès Varda presents the program “No Shelter,” featuring the films Vagabond and 7 p., cuis., s. de b. . . . (à saisir). Both films are presented on this dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and come from 2K restorations sourced from the original negative.
Though Vagabond is one of the older restorations in the set I’d have to say it’s one of the better-looking ones and that really comes down to colours because other aspects of the presentation aren't as strong. Most of the grading to the restorations in this set have a heavy warm/yellow tint, which looks awful a lot of the time, sucking out the blues and leaving cyans, while also giving everybody a sickly, jaundiced look, which sadly holds true for 7 p., the other film on this disc. Vagabond doesn’t suffer from the same thing, thankfully. Colours definitely lean cooler, which seems suiting to the film, and is at the very least close to the look of Criterion’s original DVD; the 2008 DVD had colours that did lean warmer. Reds look fine, which lends nicely to early morning shots, the purples found in the concluding "wine/grape war" (or whatever it is that is going on there) look the best they ever have, and skin tones at least don’t look jaundiced. Black levels are good, though some low-lit sequences can come off a bit murky.
Detail is a drastic improvement over the previous DVD, which I swear looked softer than the original, noisy as hell, DVD edition. Textures are also better. Grain is rendered decently enough, though it’s not as fine as some of the newer restorations in the set and there are moments it looks noisy. The presentation does still hold a film-like look, though.
7 p., in terms of film texture and look, is actually better in this regard when compared to Vagabond, and it delivers a sharper image in comparison, with better fine-object detail and nicer looking textures. Unfortunately, as I alluded to above, it has that heavy yellow tint, which in turn destroys blues, crushes blacks, and just makes everything ghastly to look at. It might actually be one of the ugliest looking pictures in the set in relation to colours, and again it’s disappointing because everything else about the presentation is excellent.
Vagabond (1985): 8/10 7 p., cuis., s. de b. . . . (à saisir) (1984): 7/10
Both films receive French monaural soundtracks, Vagabond’s in lossless PCM mono and 7 p. in Dolby Digital mono. Both are clean and clear with adequate fidelity and range. Music sounds fine, dialogue sharp, and heavy damage anywhere.
7 p. only comes with a 2-minute introduction featuring the director recalling her reasons for making the odd little short. Vagabond ports all of the on-disc features from Criterion’s 2007 DVD edition for the film, starting with Remembrances, what I guess could be considered a making-of documentary put together by Varda in 2003. Running 41-minutes she recounts the inspirations behind the film, revisits locations, and even presents new interviews, including with Sandrine Bonnaire. She also explains her reasons behind a few decisions (like suggesting a rape instead of showing it) and even goes over the editing, showing the two different takes she had for the films final key scene and then explaining why she chose the take she did. Though it works very well as a recollection of the production I appreciated Varda’s own analysis on her own decisions. (There is also a similar feature found with Cleo from 5 to 7.)
The features also present about 3-minutes’ worth of footage (now moldy) Varda filmed around one of the non-professional actors in the film, Marthe Jarnias (who also appears in 7 p.), under The Story of an Old Lady. Music and Dolly Shots is then a kind of video essay, put together by Varda, around the film’s score and creating dolly shots that the music would play over. Varda and composer Joanna Bruzdowicz both appear to talk about the collaboration before Varda shows the dolly footage from the film with the score, point out how the end of one shot connects to the beginning of the next one, connecting the protagonist’s journey.
To Nathalie Sarraute presents about 9-minutes’ worth of excerpts from a 1986 radio interview featuring Varda and Sarraute, there to promote the film by the sounds of it. Varda did base some elements in the film on Saurraute’s own experiences and both talk a little about that here, Saurraute also commenting on the film itself. The audio plays over photos of the two and photos from the production.
Before closing with the film’s trailer (as the 2007 DVD’s supplements did), Criterion does include a new feature, another David Bordwell contribution made for The Criterion Channel: Plotting in “Vagabond,” a 15-minute video essay. Bordwell covers the various narrative devices featured in the film: a “road movie,” a “mystery,” and a “network narrative.” He examines each narrative separately, showing how none of them meet conventional conclusions, and how things come together (and the various “narratives” converge) once the film reaches the train station. Sometimes the segments made for the Criterion Channel feel like they’re made more for binging but Bordwell’s are always worthwhile and I’m happy to see Criterion carrying them over to their releases.
I’m happy Criterion ported everything from their previous Vagabond DVD, which was probably the stronger set of supplements in the 4 by Agnès Varda box set, but it’s still a bit frustrating that Criterion hasn’t put together much new material in the set, especially for shorts like 7 p., cuis., s. de b. . . . (à saisir).
7 p., cuis., s. de b. . . . (à saisir) continues the set’s tradition of delivering presentations that suck all of the blues out of the image, leaving us with an ugly looking yellow picture (a shame since the restoration is otherwise stellar). Vagabond has one of the better-looking presentations, so far (despite being older), if only because it doesn’t lean that awful yellow.