Varda, Rivette Belong to Us

Posted on March 8, 2016
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“Jane B. Par Agnes V. and Kung-Fu Master!”: Agnes Varda is the unsung heroine of cinema, a masterful auteur and feminist director who shook up the world of cinema with her “Cleo From 5 to 7” in 1962 and has continued to shake the branches of filmdom with documentaries, fictions, biodramas and autobiographies that focus on women’s issues, social criticism, and the art of filmmaking itself. Cinelicious Pics has brought out today two underseen works by Varda, paired in a two-disc Blu-ray set that counterpoint each other: photo for Jane B. Par Agnes V. and Kung-Fu Master! “Jane B. Par Agnes V,” a phantasmagorical bio-pic of Jane Birkin, actress (“Blow Up”), fashion icon (the Hermes Birkin bag), longtime muse to Serge Gainsbourg, and singer (“Je t’aime … Moi non plus,” with Gainsbourg); and “Kung-Fu Master!”, a seemingly straight-ahead drama also starring Birkin; both were released in 1988. In “Jane B. Par Agnes V,” Vardas uses her camera to paint a portrait of the actress — but not in a traditional way — “It’s like an imaginary bio-pic,” Varda says. Tapping her training as a photographer, Vardas gives us still “photos” that come alive with Bunuelian sequences of expressionistic action, juxtaposing reality with fantasy all while celebrating Birkin’s life as well as the life of films, filmmaking, acting, art, love and sex. Newly-restored from the original 35mm camera negative overseen by Varda, “Jane B. Par Agnes V” is dripping in gorgeous big screen color. “Kung-Fu Master!” is a gentle, bittersweet companion piece to “Jane B. Par Agnes V” that explores the world of a lonely woman facing middle age who may or may not be falling in love with a 14-year old boy (played by Varda’s real-life son with husband Jaques Demy, Mathieu Demy); the film’s title comes from the fact that the boy is a champion arcade video game player. Birkin’s daughters, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon (her child with well-known filmmaker Jacques Doillon) also appear in the film. Long unavailable in the U.S., the film has been newly-restored from the original 35mm camera negative. Extras include an interview with Varda by Miranda July and an essay by Sandy Fitterman-Lewis.

“Paris Belongs to Us” (1961): If critic-turned-filmmaker Jacques Rivette had buttoned-down post-production financing and distribution, his 1957 debut would have been the flagship kickoff to the French New Wave, well before “The 400 Blows” and “Breathless” took the world by storm. Ultimately released in 1961, the diabolically simple film — rich in subtext and the concerns that would steer Rivette’s 50 years of filmmaking (happenstance, the use of theatre pieces and theatrical motifs, conspiracy) — was not as widely hailed as those by photo for Paris Belongs to Us Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut; still it’s a swirling maelstrom of a film that follows a young literature student (Betty Schneider) who gets involved with a mixed bag of Parisian twentysomethings — radicals, intellectuals, artists — all united by the apparent suicide of an acquaintance and the possibility of an unknown conspiracy lurking behind things. Rivette would later hone his ideas of serendipity, conspiracy and theatricality in such masterpieces as “L’amour fou” (1969), “Out 1” (1972) and one of the greatest films of modern times, “Celine and Julie Go Boating” (1974). Rivette died January 29 of this year at age 87. “Paris Belongs to Us” has been released by The Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-ray, in a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include a new interview with Richard Neupert, author of “A History of the French New Wave Cinema”; Rivette’s 1956 short film “Le coup du berger,” featuring cameos by fellow French New Wave directors Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, and Francois Truffaut; and an essay by critic Luc Sante.


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