French New Wave director Agnès Varda (Cléo de 5 à 7, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) was at the Toronto Film Festival this year with her latest documentary, Les Plages d’Agnès, an autobiographical film. Varda narrates the film, and is also an active participant, tracing her own life story. The film begins with an elaborate setup of mirrors along a beach, an obvious, but beautifully shot metaphor for self-reflection. Here, Agnès informs us that beaches have been a cornerstone of her life: from her childhood exile in Sète during the second world war, to the beaches she spent her summers at, to the beaches of Los Angeles where she spent some of her adult life.
The film explores the authenticity of memory through meta-narrative. In one scene, we watch unknown modern-day children, dressed in period outfits, re-enacting Varda’s childhood experiences, which she narrates, when she, too, becomes a part of the scene on screen. Is memory ever really reliable? Or do we simply recreate a narrative of scenes from our lives? And if we see our own lives through a narrative we invent, are re-enactments, in film, any less authentic than the stories we tell ourselves? While the film begins to raise these interesting questions, it drags on too long, as Varda digresses into tangents that last too long on various subjects, including her husband, the great director, Jacques Demy. Nevertheless, the film is worth seeing for its clever exploration of the documentary genre and for a bit of background about the life of this legendary director.