Faces Places

Nov 3, 2017

So French, so poetic, so enjoyable.

Faces Places

Grade: A

Directors: JR (Ellis,Women are Heroes), Agnes Varda (Beaches of Agnes)

Screenplay: JR, Varda

Cast: Jean-Paul Beaujon, Amaury Bossy

Rating: PG

Runtime: 1 hr 29 min

by John DeSando

“Lyrical” best expresses with poetic simplicity the greatness of Faces Places, a documentary from French director Agnes Varda and street photographer, graffiti artist, JR. Together they create a song -like film that immortalizes the French countryside and the people who work there.

Cruising in their van tricked out to look like a camera, they converse with and capture in photos goatherds, farmers, coal miners, factory workers, and cheese makers. Engaging their subjects with a sincere interest in what they do (Varda comes back a second time to connect with a lady whose principled tending of goats =not burning off young horns) appeals to the still formidable, principled director.

Varda and JR’s blowing up the portraits to put on the sides of buildings, hills, ant trains not only ingratiates the artists with the subjects, but also figuratively comments on the director and photographer’s ability to magnify the beauty of human nature. All photographers should hope for that impact.

A recurring motif about JR’s unwillingness to remove his sunglasses (I identify) reminds Varda of her New-Wave friend, Godard, leading them to attempt to visit the famed director at the end of the film. Regardless of her success in connecting, Godard serves a touchstone for the genius of Varda and friends in the ‘60’s just as JR helps make her just as relevant today at 88.

She’s a remarkable grand dame, and although some have called her work “thrift-shop cinema,” she and partner JR are savvy enough to win the 2017 Golden Eye for a documentary at Cannes.  Best expressing her optimism and realism, she says about her death, “I’m looking forward to it. Because that’ll be that.”

“That” is a body of work, the present doc included, that spans a half century of sublime cinema with immortality on its mind.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at