The Cinema of Agnès Varda: Resistance and Eclecticism by Delphine Bénézet (review)
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Reviewed by
Bénézet, Delphine. The Cinema of Agnès Varda: Resistance and Eclecticism. Wallflower Press, 2014. 208pp.

Varda's longtime moniker, "Grandmother" of the French New Wave, conjures the image of a "little old woman, pleasantly plump and talkative"–a description that Varda herself uses in Les Plages d'Agnès (2008). In The Cinema of Agnès Varda: Resistance and Eclecticism, Delphine Bénézet contends that this persona is merely one of many alter egos that Varda puts forward in her attempt to debunk "the myth of the all mighty male auteur" (61). Furthermore, Bénézet's exploration of Varda's oeuvre reveals that the filmmaker's work has always been anything but antiquated. Since her first feature film, La Pointe Courte (1954), Varda's innovative approach to filmmaking has been a testament to the limitless possibilities of the moving image. In fact, Bénézet implies that film theory–with recent "critical extensions via phenomenology, philosophy and ethics" (3)–has only begun to catch up with Varda's inventive and original praxis.

Significant works on Varda have been limited to Sandy Flitterman-Lewis's auteurist study, To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema (1996), and Alison Smith's 1998 review of Varda's corpus, which used a thematic rather than theoretical approach.1 The Cinema of Agnès Varda: Resistance and Eclecticism begins to close a gap in the critical literature by examining many of Varda's more obscure short and feature films, art installations, and television series. By taking into account contemporary developments in film studies, Bénézet also reevaluates some of Varda's well-known works, including Cléo de 5 à 7 (1961), Sans toit ni loi (1985), and Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000). In addition to Bénézet's book, a collection of interviews with Varda, edited (and translated into English) by T. Jefferson Kline, was also published in 2014, which not only (hopefully) indicates a growing scholarly interest in Varda, but also presages more significant scholarship on the filmmaker in the future.

Bénézet begins her book with an analysis of the often-overlooked political documentary Salut les Cubains! (1963). The film is mostly made of still images–photographs that Varda took on a trip to Cuba in December 1962 and January 1963. According to Bénézet, Salut les Cubains! not only testifies to the filmmaker's "commitment to an experimental and collaborative [End Page 192] cinécriture," it also illustrates "what can be gained from looking at Varda's production beyond the well-beaten track (e.g., Cléo de 5 à 7 and Sans toit ni loi), as well as beyond the exclusively feminist lens often used in scholarly literature considering her work" (2-3). Feminist and auteurist considerations are in fact secondary to Bénézet's discussions, which privilege instead a contemporary approach to the concept of cinécriture and an entirely new model for Varda's work–that of the "cinéaste passeur."

Cinécriture is a term that Varda invented to describe her unique approach to filmmaking. In a 1986 interview with Barbara Quart for Film Quarterly (included in the Kline collection and excerpted in Bénézet's book), Varda describes cinécriture as "cinematic writing":

Specifically that. Not illustrating a screenplay, not adapting a novel, not getting the gags of a good play, not any of this. I have fought so much since I started, since La Pointe Courte, for something that comes from emotion, from visual emotion, sound emotion, feeling, and finding a shape for that, and a shape which has to do with cinema and nothing else.

(Bénézet 111)

Most film theorists who engage with Varda's work, including Flitterman-Lewis and Smith, explore the concept of cinécriture. Furthermore, a number of theorists, including Flitterman-Lewis, draw parallels between Varda's cinécriture and Alexandre Astruc's caméra stylo, or "camera-pen." Asserting that cinema is "a means of writing just as flexible as written language," Astruc (a fellow French filmmaker), proposed the concept of the caméra stylo in 1948–which means that not only is it often...


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