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Reviewed by:
  • Agnès Varda Unlimited: Image, Music, Media ed. by Marie-Claire Barnet
  • Alison Smith
Agnès Varda Unlimited: Image, Music, Media. Edited by Marie-Claire Barnet. (Moving Image, 6.) Oxford: Legenda, 2016. x + 212 pp., ill.

This collection of essays was born out of an event, a conference held in Newcastleupon-Tyne in 2012 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Agnès Varda's breakthrough film Cléo de 5 à 7 (1961). Books that originate in conference proceedings can [End Page 482] sometimes suffer from haphazard construction, but in this case the opportunity for exchange offered by such a focused and enjoyable event has had the opposite effect: the various contributions are bound tightly together, with frequent cross-references from one to another. The resulting sample of the lively and varied research centred on an artist who can no longer be described simply as a film director—if indeed she ever could—resembles the fragmented mirrors or puzzle-pictures in which Varda delights in refracting portraiture, the multitude of different lights and angles contributing to a coherent, yet open, whole. Given the anniversary that gave rise to the initiating conference, it is not surprising that the first two essays in the book focus on Cléo de 5 à 7. However, they refreshingly shift the habitual perspective on this much-studied film. Both Emma Wilson's opening piece on the striking supporting actress Dorothée Blanck and Francesca Minnie Hardy's ambitious reassessment of the film's structure read Cléo as a film marked by tactile sensuality. Drawing on the haptic theories developed by Vivian Sobchack and Laura Marks, they go beyond the usual assessment of Cléo as a film about its protagonist's development as an active subject, and involve the spectator intimately in the fabric of a story that cannot be contained in one woman's limited perception. As the book opens out to embrace the wider landscape of Varda's work, the emphasis on movement, sensuality, and the immediate relationship with the spectator remains a powerful theme. The collection's scope ranges from music (two essays) to less-studied films such as Le Bonheur (1965)or L'Une chante, l'autre pas (1977). Like the edited collection Agnès Varda: le cinema et l'au-delà (ed. by Antony Fiant, Roxane Hamery, and Éric Thouvenel (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2009)), which is cited in the preface, however, it makes a point of including detailed studies of Varda as a non-cinematic artist, not only in its two chapters devoted to her installation work but also in the unusual inclusion of an essay—provocatively titled 'Still Varda'—devoted to Varda the photographer, or rather the author of mobile reflections—exhibitions, films—reassessing photography. These chapters make it powerfully clear how essential movement is to perception in Varda's work, be it our movement around the spaces she has constructed, or her moving camera interrogating fixed images or still forms such as the caryatids in the city, the subject of another notable piece, by Isabelle McNeill. Any student of Varda's work will find something indispensable in this collection, which enhances, but in no way exhausts, the growing body of research celebrating the variety, the challenge, and the inclusive playfulness of one of France's greatest artists. The book also includes a Q&A with Varda and a response by Corinne Marchand (who played Cléo) to a set of questions about her iconic role.

Alison Smith
University of Liverpool


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pp. 482-483
Launched on MUSE
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