Critics' Pick

Faces Places (NR)

October 13, 2017
By Alan Scherstuhl
Something of a prank, a farewell, an art project, a buddy comedy, a vox populi tour of the French countryside, and an inquiry into memory and images and what it means to reveal our eyes to the world, Faces Places is a joyous lulu. It finds the great documentarian and photographer Agnes Varda, 88 at the time of filming, teaming up with the 33-year-old photographer JR to wander France, their itinerary set by their own whims, doing what they each have made a life doing. For JR, that's pasting photographed portraits of people on building walls and water towers and any surface that will take them; for Varda, it's meeting those people, talking to them and documenting the process, the results and their impact. "Jeannie, it's not sad!" Varda says, with exquisite tenderness, to a woman who is brought to tears by the sight of her own visage in black-and-white across the brick face of her home in a mostly abandoned mining town.

Varda and JR also playfully document some of their own process and friendship. "Chance has always been my best assistant," Varda declares, as she embarks on her first collaborative film -- she and JR share a director's credit. They drive along in JR's custom truck, painted like a camera and housing a photo booth in the back. They visit his grandmother, put close-ups of Varda's eyes and toes on train cars, paper over a ghost town with the faces of people who live nearby. The film is light, funny, alert, alive, the work of a great and her inspired collaborator who are forever happy to be looking.

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