The oddest of couples helm Faces Places early thirties graffiti/ large form print artist JR teams with Master Agnes Varda who is more than 50 years his senior to take a ride across the villages in France posting large format print of the characters they run into along the way. Chance has always been my best assistant she declares near the films opening. Not a truer sentiment could have been stated to introduce the events that follow. JR has recently been in the news having completed a 70 foot instillation at the Mexico-US border of a baby peering over the wall from the Mexican side.
The pair set out in Jr's Mercedes van that doubles as a large black and white camera, photo booth and print shop. Their first stop an abandoned northern mining town with one remaining resident. There they post photos of the former minors on the row houses plus one of the last resident adorning her home. Next there off to see a farmer that once had 2000 acres under his care. They learn about his current experience and leave him with a souvenir print of himself on the front side of his barn.
Varda and JR share directing credit for the piece. They spend their time together teasing and provoking. Varda constantly at JR for never removing his sunglasses or fedora while he fires back at Varda on just about every topic imaginable. They are both so forward and forthright that their natural personalities fill the screen and theatre with constant laughter.
The most profound portions of the project include a stop at a shipping yard in Le Harve an all male domain. Here the pair bring the wives of three of the dock workers giving them 100 foot monuments plastered on shipping containers. The other an ill-fated train trip to go and see Goddard a long time friend of Varda and her late husband director Jack Demy who stands her up. Seeing how disappointed she is with that event Jr finally gives Varda what she wants and removes his hat and sunglasses. Special mention to a recreation of Goddard's dash though the Louve scene from Band of Ousiders with Varda in a wheelchair and JR pushing her maniacally from behind.
Faces Places is a joyful romp across the small towns of France featuring the best opening and closing credit sequences of the year. The film brings ordinary people to the forefront in the most simple manor bringing joy to them and their communities. The two principals are a perfect match even though you would think they have noting in common being generations apart. Varda youthful exuberance along with JR laid back calmness make for the perfect mix that underpins a film that I can highly recommend.
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
Faces Places | Agnes Varda / JR | France | 2017 | 89 Minutes.
Tags: Documentary, Street Artist, Cole Miners, Church Bells, Le Havre, The Louvre, Jean Luc Godard, Rolle Switzerland.