Faces Places Review

Faces Places
Revelling in their 55-year age difference, veteran filmmaker Agnès Varda and guerilla photographer JR travel in a mobile studio to profile some of France's forgotten people. But, while they plaster backwater buildings with giant monochrome images, this poignant contrast between the past and present is anything but an arty stunt.

by David Parkinson |
Published on
Release Date:

21 Sep 2018

Original Title:

Faces Places

Six decades after making her directorial debut with La Pointe Courte (1955), Agnès Varda returns to the highways and byways of France to capture the slowly disappearing landscapes and lifestyles of her past. But this is no nostalgic trip down memory lane, as Varda is accompanied by JR, a self-styled ‘photograffeur’ in the mould of Banksy, who counts Varda's murals documentary, Mur Murs (1981), among his earliest inspirations. Sharing an impish wit and an insatiable curiosity, Varda and JR also have an affinity with the ordinary people whose stories are often drowned out by the everyday hubbub. But, as was the case with Raymond Depardon's Journal de France (2012), this affectionate and sometimes whimsical odyssey also has a deceptively sharp political edge.

Fetching up where fate decrees, the dynamic duo invite folks (the majority of whom are white) into the photo booth in JR's van and paste their enlarged monochrome images on local landmarks. These include a row of miners' cottages condemned for demolition, a wooden barn, an acid factory wall and a toppled Nazi blockhouse. Yet, while JR and his crew create the art, Varda provides the picture's heart, as she coaxes subjects into sharing their stories about the changing role of the postman, the benefits of free-range goat herding and the duties of a docker's wife.


Returning to features for the first time since The Beaches Of Agnès (2008), Varda also confides more details about herself, as she muses on her advancing years, blurring sight and unreliable memory. But it's her energy that drives the project, and her receptivity contrasts with JR's somewhat calculating elusiveness. Nevertheless, while he might hide behind his sunglasses, he provides the film's sweetest moment when he finds a way to cheer Varda up after she has been thoughtlessly let down by old friend Jean-Luc Godard.

Whether rediscovering La France périphérique or hurtling through the Louvre, Varda and JR make a surprisingly empathetic team and their collaboration is as provocative as it is poetic and poignant.

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