The Complete Films of Agnès Varda

Program 9: Jane B.


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Synopsis

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.

Picture 7/10

The ninth dual-layer disc found in Criterion’s The Complete Films of Agnès Varda presents the two films Varda did in collaboration with actor Jane Birkin: Jane B. par Agnès V. and Kung-Fu Master! Both films are encoded at 1080p/24hz, are both sourced from new 2K restorations (scanned from the 35mm original camera negatives), and are both presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

Each films have been cleaned up, only a few marks and hairs here and there between both films and they each deliver superb detail and depth. Grain looks strong and the films deliver a nice filmic texture. In terms of the digital encode and the clean-up work that went into each film, they both look good.

But again, I’m going to go on one of my little rants about how the image has been yellowed up in the colour grading, and it’s particularly obnoxious with Jane B. Both films have jaundiced skin tones, both have murky black levels, and both have lots of cyans (though, impressively, blues manage to fight their way out a bit during one sequence in Jane B.). But what sticks out with Jane B. are sequences featuring snow along with a black-and-white Laurel & Hardy homage. The snow looks like someone has urinated all over it and that black-and-white sequence isn’t so much black-and-white but rather black-and-yellow. I get that not all films are graded the same, some go warmer, some go cooler, some go way out there, some suck the colours out, some go through crazy photo-chemical processes, all to get their desired look. But it becomes highly questionable that a good majority of the restorations by houses like Éclair (who are credited with performing the restorations for both of these films) all have this same grading, with either the yellows being pumped up or the blues sucked out (I admit I’m not entirely sure which is being done). It seems unlikely all of these films are supposed to look this way, and it’s especially hard to believe that a black-and-white sequence in a colour film is supposed to have whites that look yellow, I just don’t buy that. And it’s all especially frustrating because every other aspect of both presentations is rock solid: it’s clean, it’s sharp, grain is nice, and it looks like a film. But Jesus, it's unimaginable how anyone could look at those yellow-stained black-and-white sequences and say “oh yeah! That looks great!” I don’t blame Criterion completely as they got the master from elsewhere. They could have maybe adjusted the colours, but I don’t know how much good would have come from that: Kino adjusted the colours for their edition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and it’s debatable whether it was an improvement or not.

Again, because I admittedly don’t know for sure, I have to give some leeway because maybe this is, at the very least, close to how the film is supposed to look… but come on!

Audio 7/10

Both films offer monaural soundtracks in lossless 1.0 PCM. Dialogue sounds great, music sounds fine, there’s decent depth and fidelity. They’re ultimately above average mono soundtracks.

Extras 3/10

Criterion offers one new feature made exclusively for this release, though miss an opportunity to explore this collaboration a bit more. That new feature is found with Jane B. par Agnès V. and is an interview with Jane Birkin herself. Here she recalls first writing Varda after seeing Vagabond, leading the director to contact her directly because she didn’t quite understand the letter (as Varda explains it in the accompanying 2-minute introduction for the film, it sounds as though she thought Birkin was maybe going through something like a mid-life crisis). Varda ended up inspired from her meeting with Birkin, which led her to taking the money she had made from Vagabond and making Jane B. par Agnès V., showcasing the actor doing interviews and roles she had never done but would have liked to do. From this then came Birkin’s idea for Kung-Fu Master! and the idea of getting their children working together (Mathieu Demy and Charlotte Gainsbourg). It’s a good firsthand account on how the films came about while also being a loving tribute to her friend.

The disc then includes a trailer for the film. Kung-Fu Master! comes with its own two-minute introduction from Varda, along with an 18-minute excerpt from a 1988 episode of the French television program Bonsoir, which features Varda and Birkin talking about their two films, which sound to have both been released at the same time. Interestingly there is more discussion around Jane B. than Kung-Fu Master!

Though that interview ends up being informative and fun, and Birkin’s own account is sweet and engaging, those end up being the only things offering coverage of this period in Varda’s career.

Closing

Both films have that yellow grading that has really become the bane of this set. While it’s possible that the films are supposed to have a warmer look, it still feels overdone and it looks ugly, and I still have a hard time believing that the black-and-white sequences found in Jane B. are supposed to have a yellow hue to them as well. Even the title cards for the restorations are yellow. Supplements also end up being a missed opportunity.

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Directed by: Agnes Varda, JR
Year: 1955-2019
Time: 2477 total min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Licensors: Succession Varda  |  Les Films du Jeudi  |  Cine-Tamaris  |  Cinémathèque Française
Release Date: August 11 2020
MSRP: $249.95
 
Blu-ray
15 Discs | BD-50
1.33:1 ratio
1.37:1 ratio
1.66:1 ratio
1.77:1 ratio
1.78:1 ratio
1.85:1 ratio
2.35:1 ratio
English 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
French 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Musical Score 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
French 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo
English 1.0 PCM Mono
French 1.0 PCM Mono
French 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 Interviews with Agnès Varda’s children, Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy,    Discussion about Varda recorded at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival for the North American premiere of Varda by Agnès, featuring Varda's children Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy, director Martin Scorsese, and Telluride Film Festival cofounder Tom Luddy, moderated by Annette Insdorf   Agnès Varda’s Credit Sequences: 2019 video essay on how Varda opens and closes her films, “cinewritten” by Alex Vuillaume-Tylski   Sensing Bodies video essay created in 2019 by French online publication Trois Couleurs   Conversation between director Agnes Varda and her cat Nini was shot in 2019   Trailer for Varda by Agnès   Janus Films Retrospective Trailer   2012 discussion between Agnes Varda and actor-director Mathieu Amalric about La Pointe Courte   2007 video interview with director Agnes Varda   Excerpts from a 1964 episode of the French television series Cinéastes de notre temps, in which Agnes Varda discusses her early career   2017 interview with author Jhumpa Lahiri on La Pointe Courte   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Du Côté de la côte   Remembrances (2005), a documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Agnes Varda and actors Corinne Marchand and Antoine Bourseiller   Excerpt from a 1993 French television program featuring Madonna and Agnes Varda talking about the film   Cléo’s Real Path Through Paris (2005), a short film retracing, on a motorcycle, Cléo’s steps through Paris   The Music of Michel Legrand: video essay made by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos for FilmStruck in 2016, explores the musical motifs in Cléo from 5 to 7   Trailer for Cléo from 5 to 7   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for L’opéra Mouffe   Agnes Varda on Les fiancés du pont Macdonald   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Les dites cariatides   Les dites cariatides bis   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais   Rue Daguerre in 2005, Agnès Varda pays visits to neighbors old and new thirty years after she made Daguerréotypes there   Bread, Painting, Accordion: short profile of Agnes Varda’s longtime bakery and accordion shop   Daguerreotypes, Photographic Objects: short video by Agnes Varda of a daguerreotype exhibit in 2005   Footage of an outdoor concert in Paris’s 14th arrondissement in 2005, shot by Agnes Varda   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Le lion volatil   Interview with Agnes Varda from 1998 about Le bonheur   The Two Women of "Le bonheur", a short piece featuring actors Claire Drouot and Marie-Françoise Boyer   Thoughts on "Le bonheur", a discussion between four scholars and intellectuals discussing the concept of happiness and its relation to the film   Two short pieces by Agnes Varda investigating people   Jean-Claude Drouot Returns (2006), a featurette in which the actor revisits the film's setting forty years later   Segment from the 1964 television program Démons et merveilles du cinéma, featuring footage of Varda shooting Le bonheur   Trailer for Le bonheur   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for Les créatures   Television program covering the production of Les créatures   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Elsa la Rose   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Uncle Yanco   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for The Black Panthers   2014 introduction by Agnes Varda for Lions Love (...and Lies)   Viva Varda!, long-lost 1970 French television interview between Agnes Varda and Lions Love (... and Lies) star Viva   2014 introduction by Agnes Varda for Mur Murs   Two Street Artists, profile of street artists Jérôme Mesnager and Miss.Tic   Trailer for Mur Murs   Nausicaa: 1971 television film by Varda that was ultimately seized and supressed without reason after completion   Women Are Naturally Creative, a 1977 documentary directed by Katja Raganelli, featuring an interview with Agnes Varda shot during the making of the film, plus on-set interviews with actors Valérie Mairesse and Thérèse Liotard   Trailer for One Sings, the Other Doesn't   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Réponse de femmes   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Plaisir d’amour en Iran   Remembrances (2003), a documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with Sandrine Bonnaire and other cast members   The Story of an Old Lady (2003), a short piece in which Agnes Varda revisits actress Martha Jarnias, who plays the old aunt in the film   Music and Dolly Shots, (2003), a conversation between Agnes Varda and composer Joanna Bruzdowicz   A 1986 radio interview with Agnes Varda and writer Nathalie Sarraute, who inspired the film   David Bordwell on the plotting in Vagabond   Trailer for Vagabond   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for 7 p., cuis., s. de b. . . . (à saisir)   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for Jane B. par Agnès V.   Interview with actor Jane Birkin about her work with director and friend Agnès Varda   Trailer for Jane B. par Agnès V.   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for Kung-Fu Master!   Interview from 1988 with actor Jane Birkin and director Agnes Varda on the twin releases of their films Jane B. par Agnès V. and Kung-Fu Master! aired on the Swiss television news program Bonsoir   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for The Young Girls Turn 25   2012 introduction by Agnes Varda for The World of Jacques Demy   A Fun Moment with Michel Piccoli, 2004 interview where Agnes Varda reflects on One Hundred and One Nights and shares footage from an with an on-set interview with Piccoli   Set Visits, Director Agnes Varda narrates this behind-the-scenes footage featuring some stars that make cameo appearances in One Hundred and One Nights, including Marcello Mastroianni, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Catherine Deneuve, Robert De Niro, and Alain Delon   Trailer for One Hundred and One Nights   Hands and Objects: on Agnès Varda’s Shorts, a conversation among Anne Huet, Agnes Varda, and critic Alain Berlaga about the director's short films   Excerpts from Varda's unfinished films La melangite and Christmas Carole   1971 commercials for "Collants Minuit" and "Tupperware"   Post-Filmum to "The Gleaners and I"   The Gleaners Museum   Pre-Filmum to "The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later"   Tribute to Zgougou, tribute to Varda's cat   Chance is the Best Assistant: codirectors Agnes Varda and JR discuss the making of Faces Places   "The Beach Cabin" outtake from Faces Places   Codirectors Agnes Varda and JR discuss the music of Faces Places with composer Matthieu Chedid   Trailer for Faces Places   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Salut les cubains   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Ulysse   Une minute pour une image: a selection of photographs accompanied by commentary by intellectuals and artists - the filmmaker herself included - for French television   2007 introduction by Agnes Varda for Ydessa, les ours et etc   Around Trapeze Artists: 2009 featurette directed by Agnes Varda   Daguerre Beach: 2008 featurette directed by Agnes Varda capturing the creation of the beach in front of her house for The Beaches of Agnès   Scholar Kelley Conway discusses director Agnès Varda’s unique approach to self-representation in The Beaches of Agnès   Trailer for The Beaches of Agnès   Quelques veuves de Noirmoutier: adaptation by Varda of a video installation originally created to accompany L’île et elle, an exhibition she had presented at the Fondation Cartier in Paris into a documentary for ARTE in 2006   Installations: short profiles by highlighting the installation work Agnes Varda did across the world as a visual artist, starting in 2003   A lavishly illustrated 200-page book, featuring notes on the films and essays on Varda’s life and work by writers Amy Taubin, Michael Koresky, Ginette Vincendeau, So Mayer, Alexandra Hidalgo, and Rebecca Bengal, as well as a selection of Agnes Varda’s photography and images of her installation art