Nothing Stopped Agnès Varda

By Patrick Blossier, AFC

par Patrick Blossier La Lettre AFC n°297

[English] [français]

The poster of the Cannes Film Festival 2019 is sublime. It is a wonderful tribute that summarizes everything about Agnès Varda. Nothing stops Agnès Varda from shooting a take, nothing is impossible, her small size will not stop her from reaching the high viewfinder of her camera. The image comes from the shooting of her first feature, La Pointe courte, shot at Sète in 1954 while she was the photographer of Jean Vilar’s TNP.

This is the image I retain of her from shooting Vagabond and Jacquot. On both of these films, we began without really preparing, without a screenplay, just a few handwritten notes. Agnès was guided by her overflowing energy and imagination. With her, films were constructed as they were shot.
I met Agnès Varda rather by chance, thanks to Patricia Mazuy (who was taking part in the preparation and who, as assistant editor, was decisive in the structure of the film). Vagabond is my first fiction feature as DoP. Thank you, Patricia, because it was a great stroke of luck to begin with Agnès Varda, who imparted to me her unique taste and the twelve travelling shots that punctuate the film still influence my work today.

The combo hadn’t been invented in 1985 and the cinematographer and director had to share the camera’s viewfinder, the only place where we could see the frame that was taking shape… That proximity made it easier to have exchanges. I learned a lot from her. Agnès would write that day’s scene over breakfast. When she hadn’t finished, she’d keep writing on set, and would have us set up a long travelling shot to keep us busy while we waited. Since there weren’t many of us (a dozen in all), set up could take a while, and during that time she would finish writing her scene. In the evening, we would all get together in the cutting room set up in the university dormitory where we were all staying. The film would take shape before our eyes, it was magical.

Sandrine Bonnaire, Agnès Varda et Patrick Blossier sur le tournage de "Sans toit ni loi"

Shooting took longer than expected, at the end of April the trees were budding, and flowers were invading the fields. Vagabond is a winter film but…that didn’t stop Agnès. In early May, a few members of the crew (including Sandrine Bonnaire) had to leave because of other engagements… that didn’t stop Agnès. There were only five of us left, Jacques Royer (assistant camera) had a cast on his foot and Agnès had to push the travelling. A car accident stopped shooting. Her energy was exceptional and was so contagious. The whole crew of Vagabond still has moving and intense memories from the shoot. We were all very young and all beginners, and she brought us so far…

(Translate from French by Alexander Baron-Raiffe)