Agnès Varda, leader of French New Wave, has passed away

The career of Agnès Varda was groundbreaking. Varda, a French filmmaker at the center of the New Wave, has passed away today at the age of 90.

Her death was confirmed by a spokesperson for her production company, Ciné-Tamaris. Her death was caused by breast cancer. She passed away in her home in Paris Friday.

It’s not an overstatement to say that Varda’s life career in the film industry was groundbreaking. Besides being one of the key figures behind that French New Wave in the 1960s, her career brought us many films like “Cleo from 5 to 7”, “Le Bonheur” and “The Creatures.” She was also the first female director to win an honorary Oscar in 2017. She was also the oldest nominee ever for a competitive Oscar last year. The film that was nominated was “Faces Places” and it was up for Best Documentary.

Agnès Varda in the film "Faces Places."
Agnès Varda on “Visages Villages”. Image courtesy Cineart.

Early years

Born Arlette Varda on May 30, 1928, in Ixelles, Belgium, she left her home with her family when she was a teenager to live in Sète, France in 1940. Then at 18, she changed her name to Agnès.

Varda studied art history at the École du Louvre and photography at the École des Beaux-Arts. She afterwards would work as a photographer at the Théâtre National Populaire in Paris, not yet working in film.

“I just didn’t see films when I was young,” she said in a 2009 interview. “I was stupid and naïve. Maybe I wouldn’t have made films if I had seen lots of others; maybe it would have stopped me.” Varda went on to say that she was “totally free and crazy and innocent” when she started in films. In her later years, she wanted to keep a “certain level of quality” to her films. “I don’t do commercials, I don’t do films pre-prepared by other people, I don’t do star system. So I do my own little thing,” she said.

Agnès Varda filming
Agnès Varda doing her own little thing. Image courtesy Ciné Tamaris.

Agnès Varda established herself as an icon

Before Varda became the icon she is today, she was making dramatic films. It was those early dramatic films that helped Varda become a leading feminist and a cinematic master. Examples of her dramatic features include “Cléo From 5 to 7” (1962) and “Le Bonheur” (1965). Both the works focused on dark and dramatic subjects. “Cléo From 5 to 7” focused a pop singer waiting for the results of a cancer examination and “Le Bonheur” focused on an affair.

However, it was “La Pointe Courte” (1955) that established Varda as a central figure in the French New Wave cinematic movement.

She prised working on films that involved walking the line between being the commonly accepted fiction and nonfiction and breaking the definition of gender at the time.

“She was a person of immense talent, but also enormously thoughtful,” said Mr. Kline of Boston University. “When you look at some of the films you might think they were more spontaneous than thought out. A film like ‘Cléo,’ for instance, you might have said, ‘O.K., she just follows Cléo around Paris,’ but the film is extremely beautifully imagined and thought out beforehand.”

While Agnès Varda may be gone, her work and its impact on the world stays and will live on.

Image courtesy

Sean Berry
Sean Berry
Sean Berry is Videomaker's managing editor.

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