Faces Places (Visages Villages) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Agnès Varda and JR, France, 2017, 89 mins

Review by James Bartlett

Release Date: tbc

Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and currently doing the rounds on that circuit – I saw it recently at the Melbourne Film Festival – this charming and likeable documentary is likely to be coming to a cinema near you some time soon.

Based on the unlikely – and initially uneasy – relationship between veteran documentarian and photographer Varda and fedora-wearing street muralist JR (you probably know his work; faces and other subjects blown up into huge black-and-white posters and slapped on the side of buildings or in odd places), it follows them as they travel across hidden, rural France in a photo booth van.

Despite JR seemingly being in awe of the red-and-white haired Agnès he is rather sarcastic to her, while she constantly exhorts him to take off his sunglasses, which he wears no matter what. They visit a chemical plant, an abandoned town and even discover a WWII bunker that’s fallen down a cliff onto a beach and now looks like a broken arrowhead of the gods.

Meeting locals as they use them as models for the instant-printed posters that become part of temporary open-air galleries, there are emotional moments as we see a local postman immortalized in his neighborhood, or a woman’s face plastered on the outside of her home just days before the whole street is bulldozed.

Most stunning perhaps are the giant-sized posters of the wives of dock workers affixed to a huge wall of shipping containers, but we get to know this odd pair well too, and learn that Agnès has a long (but lapsed) relationship with French film auteur Jean Luc-Godard.

It’s his doorstep that we finally end up on, but that’s not the main subject of this documentary; it’s the story of an unexpected friendship that develops – literally before our eyes – during a fun road trip, and, more than that, the reactions that people have to their experiment.