Les Plages d’Agnès

The Beaches of Agnès

Paru le La Lettre AFC n°182 Autres formats

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I will not go on about what a real pleasure it was to work with Agnès Varda, as this is obvious. We had already “crossed lines” on the phone, during the conception of her earlier film The Gleaners & I.
Agnès Varda - © Les Films du Losange
Agnès Varda
© Les Films du Losange

Her first question was whether it bothered me to participate in a film that had already been shot by other cinematographers, (excerpts from her previous films, shots done by her and by other collaborators, and then finally by her assistant, as well as an American cinematographer for the section in Los Angeles).

We went from the reportage format, with a crew of five – during the exhibition in Avignon, or with her family in Noirmoutier – to a much more numerous team when we recreated the courtyard of her house on a sound stage, principally lighting for a daylight effect.
Agnès is very experienced in the concept of the frame, and the rendering of lighting, and her demand pushes you to “do be at your best” every day, which pleased me a lot.

As she had to be in the frame in almost every shot, a certain collusion between us was mandatory. The rendering of light that she wished had to be based on , to use her expression, “lit shadows”, that is to say that the shot had to be bright, with strong sources that are not direct, but bounced on white canvas or walls, and then diffused before “falling on” what we were filming, the set or the character, or herself in this particular case. A little backlight might be added to “brighten things up”, and the concept was adopted.
We used rear screen projections, blue screens, superimpositions, and tons of sand dumped in the street in order to create a stretch of Parisian beach in front of her door. Shots from a Zodiac boat, or from a bridge to follow her sailing a boat on the Seine between the many cruise boats – which of course had to be kept out of frame – the recreation of her childhood in Sète and the beginnings of her professional life ... etc.

Agnès, despite her present advanced age, possesses a truly incredible precision and memory. She knows what she likes and what she does not like in shots, and is constantly looking for the best way to put together a shot, and as long as she hasn’t found that, “we keep looking” on and on. At the beginning (as we started filming scenes that were more reportage), she told me that my shots were too wide, too far from her. She wanted me to be more with her, with her thoughts, which translated into a desire for tighter shots.
The digital intermediate was a more difficult period for Agnès, with her impression that she was starting from nothing, that “we are rebuilding everything from scratch.” With a mélange of images shot on all different media, with shots made by her as well, and interlaced (not progressive) images where we had to do our best to erase the fields. There was an HD output for the Venice film festival, then finally the transfer to film.

Les Plages d'Agnès
Les Plages d’Agnès


Camera : Panasonic 400 from Panavision Alga Techno
Electrical equipment : Transpalux
Post-production : Mikros Image, Digimage, Eclair