JCM312/French Feminism, Continued: Agnès Varda (Lecture)

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Feminist film production

  1. Documentary
    • Do not pretend to "objectivity"
    • Autobiographical (structured like a personal diary)
  2. Socialist Realist
    • Not "socialist" in an economic sense
    • Derived from 1930s Russia
      • 1932: Joseph Stalin decreed "socialist realism" as official policy: "On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations"
      • Art must support the Revolution; no stylistic experimentation allowed
    • More generally speaking: fiction film from a feminist perspective
    • Feminist morality tales
    • Didactic fiction films
  3. Women's cinema as counter cinema
    • Rooted in Wollen's principle of "counter cinema," as in Godard's work
    • Classical cinema's form, its style, is seen to be patriarchal.
    • Thus a feminist content requires a feminist style

Agnès Varda


  • 30 May 1928 born (Brussels)
  • Late 1940s: professional still. Photographer
    • Working initially in the theater
    • For Jean Vilar's Theatre National Populaire
  • 1951-'61 And then for magazine photo stories
  • 1954 first short. La Point courte
    • Edited by Alain Resnais
    • Direct antecedent of the New Wave
  • Varda associated with the "literary" elements of n.w.
    • "Left Bank" or Rive Gauche intellectuals
      • Intellectuals living on the left bank of the Seine River
    • Le nouveau roman (French: "new novel") of Alain Robbe-Grillet & Nathalie Sarraute
  • 1961 first feature film, Cleo from 5 to 7
  • 1962 married director Jacques Demy
  • 1968-'69 worked in U.S.
    • Two shorts: Uncle Janco and The Black Panthers (about Huey Newton)
    • One feature: Lions Love
      • First film with english-speaking cast
      • Gerome Ragni, James Rado, co-authors of Hair, in cast
  • Early 1970s: becomes earnestly involved in woman's movement
    • Socialist realist feminist films
    • My Body Belongs to Me (1972)
      • Pro-abortion
    • One Sings, the Other Doesn't (1977)
      • Two women's parallel lives

With Jacques Demy:


  • Interplay of subjectivity and objectivity
    • Films in which distinction between objective "reality" and character's inner states are blurred
    • Cf. Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour
    • E.g., The Creatures
      • In which writer's imagination blends with reality
  • Closely related: interplay of fiction and documentary
    • Creatures is largely improvised and features actors playing their real life roles
  • Social and political issues
    • Racism
      • Black panthers (1968)
    • The Cuban revolution, led by socialist, Fidel Castro
      • Salute to Cuba (1965)
        • Over 4,000 of her still photos collaged together
    • Vietnam war
      • Far from Vietnam episode (1967)
  • Feminism
    • Women's issues

Narrative structure

  • Women on a journey
    • Both physical and emotional journeys
  • Doubled story-line
    • Two narratives that twine together
  • Narrative experimentation
    • Playing with narrative form

Visual style

  • Mise-en-scene
    • Location shooting
    • Nonprofessional actors
    • Vagabond has a mixed cast
  • Cinematography
    • Camera movement that does not follow action, but acts independently
  • "Symbolic" use of color and black and white
    • E.g., Happiness and The Creatures


  • Kuhn, Annette. Women's Pictures: Feminism and Cinema. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

External links