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R.I.P. French New Wave trailblazer Agnès Varda

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. French New Wave trailblazer Agnès Varda
Photo: JB Lacroix (Getty Images)

Agnès Varda, the trailblazing filmmaker who helped define French New Wave, has died. As Variety reports, her family confirmed her Friday death from breast cancer in a statement, saying the “joyful feminist” and “passionate artist” was “surrounded by her family and friends” when she passed. She was 90.


Varda was making art up until her death, having presented her latest film, an autobiographical documentary called “Varda by Agnès,” at the Berlin Film Festival just last month. She received the honorary Berlinale Camera award at the festival, adding another trophy to a career that saw her also receive an honorary Oscar and a Governors Award.

Her career began with her 1955 feature La Pointe Courte, which many consider to be one of the key forerunners of the subversive, influential French New Wave movement, which favored a documentary style toying with discontinuous editing, long takes, and ambiguity.

Varda’s subsequent features only deepened her influence, with Cleo From 5 to 7, Vagabond, and Jane B. by Agnes V. emerging as enduring classics. In 2017, Varda was nominated for her first competitive Oscar for Faces Places, a fascinating non-fiction film pairing her with French artist Jean “JR” René that we lauded for its “oodles of charm” and clever, moving dips into the existential. “Mortality—that business of being confronted with what you were and what you aren’t anymore on a daily basis—is funny, but it’s still mortality, and questions of death and the past keep drawing the fanciful cross-country trip back like a current,” goes our review.

In a 2009 interview with The A.V. Club, Varda reflected on her past and the concept of nostalgia. So nostalgia doesn’t make sense, because it’s like bringing the memories back to be a special part of my day or to be part of my week,” she said. “And I’m inside my memories the same way I’m inside my everyday life. I am sometimes melancholy, which is not the same. Sometimes I feel sad, but this is not nostalgia, because I don’t want time to come back.”

“Varda’s gone, but Agnès will still be here,” tweeted out former Cannes Film Festival president Gilles Jacob. “Intelligent, lively, sweet, spiritual, laughing, comical, unexpected as is her work.” He added that Varda’s “movies are our treasure. A national treasure: that of the French spirit.”

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.