I wrote the following capsule review of Faces Places, one of the very best films of the year, for Time Out Chicago today:
When I had the great good fortune to meet French New Wave legend Agnes Varda in Chicago two years ago she was already talking excitedly about her new movie Faces Places, which had just then begun shooting. When I asked her if it was going to be a feature or a short, she mischievously replied that she intended it to be exactly 75 minutes long because she considered that to be the ideal length for a documentary film. The fact that the end result (which receives its local premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival tonight) runs 89 minutes can therefore be seen as an indication of just how much valuable footage Varda and her co-director, the photographer/installation artist known only as “JR,” gleaned while traversing the French countryside in pursuit of interesting faces and places.
The premise of this whimsical yet profound road movie/comedy is that Varda and JR travel from town to town in a truck outfitted with a “mobile photo booth” that allows them to not only take photographs of the people they come across but also print them with a large-scale printer and paste the resulting images onto buildings in the same villages where the subjects live. It’s a heart-warming celebration of rural, working-class France that asks viewers to think about the role that art plays in everyday life. It is also a meditation on mortality, as the 88-year-old Varda frequently reminisces about friends who are no longer with her and talks about her need to capture images of people and things before she can forget them. If this is indeed Varda’s final feature film, as she has indicated in recent interviews, it is the loveliest swan song I can imagine.
Faces Places screens at the Chicago International Film Festival on Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14. For more info, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the CIFF website.