French New Wave Cinema Icon Agnès Varda Dies at 90


For many American cinephiles, 2017’s “Faces Places” was their first true introduction to the French director Agnès Varda. But she had been an icon for many years before that, often hailed as the matriarch of French New Wave Cinema. The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that Varda has passed away at age 90.

Varda was born in Belgium in 1928 to a French mother and Greek father. She studied photography and began her career as a still photographer before discovering her love of cinema. She was very open about her lack of knowledge in film, often saying she had only seen ten films by the time she decided to write her own.

That first script became her directorial debut, “La Pointe Courte,” in 1955. Her style leaned heavily to her still photography roots, but she also told the story in a way that hadn’t really been seen much by the mid-1950s.

She followed her first with several short films over the next few years before releasing a second feature. That film, “Cleo from 5 to 7,” was released in 1961 and would go on to become the defining film of Varda’s long career. One of the earliest examples of a film unfolding in real time, it also established the director’s place as a pioneer of French New Wave, which was all about rejecting norms and finding new ways to tell stories through film.

In the midst of her burgeoning career, Varda married and had two children. She continued working and became a force in the French film industry, starting her own production company in the 1970s. In 1985, she released one of her most profound and interesting films, “Vagabond,” which centered on the death of a young woman, but unfolded through the eyes of people who had known her.

Over the years, Varda worked tirelessly in the industry, promoting stories by and about women. Her work was well known and highly regarded, and comprised both documentary and narrative films that earned her nominations and prizes at festivals around the world. But it wasn’t until 2017 that the Academy finally recognized her achievements.

In November 2017, Varda received an honorary Oscar at the Governor’s Ball, right in the middle of an Oscar campaign for her eventual nominated documentary, “Faces Places.”

In her speech, Varda said, “I got many awards. Here in the Mecca of cinema, Hollywood, I’ve received the best one.”

Agnès Varda was preceeded in death by her husband, Jacques Demy, who died in 1990. She is survived by her children, Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy.

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