Faces Places (2017)

99% – Critics
89% – Audience

Faces Places Storyline

Prolific director and pioneer filmmaker of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda, teams up with a renegade travelling companion, the imaginative and rather cryptic street photographer, muralist and installation artist, J.R., on a whimsical tour across the French countryside. The idea behind this artistic road trip of discovery is quite simple. The duo visits isolated villages, vast farms and small communities with an unquenched thirst to meet people and their amazing stories, which become part of an ever-growing mosaic of memories through massive, black-and-white posters plastered to walls. The result of this unexpected collaboration is surprising. But isn’t that the whole point of art?

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Faces Places Movie Reviews

a congenial travelogue roving around a bucolic France with the duo’s artistic wandering eyes to discern faces and places worthy of a mural tribute

An Oscar-nominated documentary borne out of the May-December friendship between an 88-year-young Agnès Varda and an 33-year-old French graffiti artist JR, FACES PLACES is a congenial travelogue roving around a bucolic France in their instant-camera-shaped van with the pair’s artistic wandering eyes to discern pertinent faces and places and vouchsafe them larger-than-life tributes, in the form of giant portraits printed and plastered on the wall.

Those magnificent vignettes brilliantly hones up the project’s humble humanistic gesture and overtures of “art-changing-the-world” initiative by bringing art to ordinary folks at close quarters, and the duo’s camera faithfully captures the benefactors’ genuine emotion (raging from gratitude to nonchalance), but perceptively without overstaying its welcome lest it borders on largesse-lading smugness. The segment in Le Havre hammers out an empowering encomium of the “invisible” women, who are behind beside (as Varda correctly rephrases) their husbands, on the frontage of a towering congregation of containers. But for my money, the film’s de-facto star showpiece is an ephemeral artwork of re-working Varda’s vintage photo of her erstwhile artist friend Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) on the surface of a deserted bunker plunged on the beach, a personal homage to the departed impeccably wed with the precious nature of art’s transcendence.

JR and Varda’s road trip can also conducive to a mini-sociological and anthropological study, through their seemingly extemporary encounter with various people, we get a glimpse of France’s current agrarian situation: a ghost-town is revivified for one day in collective effort; a farmer who takes on a 200-acre fieldwork all on his own; asserting its slant through the mural of a goat with its two horns, to the thorny dilemma between productivity-augmenting, manpower-shrinking modernization vs. traditional cottage-industry business that respects life as it is; also memorable is the visage of a timeworn minimal-pension receiver, living peacefully in solitude in his own quaint kingdom, tantalizing us with his unsaid backstory.

On another hand, for cineastes, the expectation of seeing and knowing more of the grandmother of nouvelle vague, is par for the course, but an elfin Varda, albeit of being remarkably sprightly and articulate, in concert with a more elusive JR, burdened by his Banksy-inspired self-eponymity, proffers little spark from the anecdotal division, except for Jean-Luc Godard’s immaterial cameo, gently ruffles Varda’s feathers and astutely allows JR to accord Varda a parting gift, but no need to flog the dead horse, as mutual respect should have initiated in day one when they start this ebullient, win-win project.


Agnes Varda is probably the least pretentious and most accessible of the French New Wave directors. Unlike Jean-Luc Godard, who as an artist seems to have calcified recently into his worst characteristics — pretension, abstraction and aloofness — Varda seems only to grow more warm and charming with age. And her companion, the street artist JR, with his sheer youthful exuberance and eternal sunglasses, is a terrific counterbalance to her wisdom and reflection. Opposites attract!

JR runs through the Louvre, pushing Varda in a wheelchair, leaping over sofas, in a recreation of the scene in Band of Outsiders when the actors broke the record of running through the famous museum. Varda, while gazing over a herd of sheep, ruminates how the young active lambs on the outside of the circle are the ones leading the flock. And always, the faces. And the places. JR and Varda travel throughout rural France, pasting large photo printouts of people on walls. They talk, they tease each other, they meet interesting people. This movie is a love letter to creativity and art and people. A railroad worker asks Varda why she let JR paste her toes on the side of a train’s petrol tank, and the first thing she says is, “For fun.”

A film that seems far more charming than it actually ends up to be

“Visages villages” is one of the recent Oscar nominees in the Documentary category, actually the very first for renowned director Agnès Varda almost at the age of 90 now and she made this film with JR. You honestly don’t find out too much about the latter here, apart from 2 or 3 examples of his art and his idea with the gigantic camera of course that is at the center of the film. And at the center of its trailer too because honestly all the really good moments you find in here are show in the preview already. This really disappointed me. The idea with the big camera I just mentioned already is a good one, but it feels really underused during the film or maybe it was really not possible to make more of it quantity-wise and minute-wise than they did here. The idea of the pretty different duo travelling through the country just doesn’t cut the cake in my opinion. Varda is the star here, but some of her comments about dating sites for example do not feel too likable in my opinion. In terms of landscapes and countrysides I also expected more. But yeah the film feels more about people and faces anyway, but the farmer, the mailman and everybody else, all the normal people rarely make a memorable impact, almost never I guess, maybe the one lady who cries when she sees the big photo version of herself, but she is also in the trailer already. Maybe one reason why so many deem this film more interesting than it is is the final reference to Varda’s past and her relationship with Godard and how they are paying him a visit. I also could have called this review “Waiting for Godard”, especially the way in whcih it turns out. Was it real or scripted, especially with the moment when JR really lifts his shades eventually? It’s up to you to decide, but letting us see him as blurry as Varda does is not a bad idea. Still, the last 10 minutes, which may be the best thing about the film are not strong enough to really make me forget about everything mediocre (yes everything) before that. Sadly, I must say I am baffled by the film’s success with critics and awards bodies and while I was hoping on Oscar night that Varda can maybe take it, today I must say that this documentary is simply not good enough and that the nomination was already too much I am afraid. It’s a pretty simple movie to be honest, but not simple in terms of effortless yet creative, but really simple and not poffering half as much as I hoped it would after seeing the trailer. And it really is not just a case of exaggerated expectations. gotta give this one a thumbs-down. Not recommended.