‘Faces Places’ film review
By Jerrison Oracion, Senior Columnist
What happens when you have the actual person who pioneered the French New Wave working with one of the most famous photographers in France? You get Faces Places.
This documentary, which is nominated for Best Documentary in the Academy Awards this year, is an unusual homage to art. Director Agnès Varda and photographer JR go on a tour around France and install art exhibits in various villages. When they install them, Varda and JR receive a lot of attention from the residents of the villages and the residents are amazed by the exhibits.
The film begins with Varda and JR meeting in the countryside and we learn about the pair. The documentary is presented in the style of Varda’s films, which look like educational films that you’d see in school. During their tour, they drive in a photovan which also includes a very big printer that JR uses to print pictures that he will use for the exhibits. At one stop, they put a picture of a barefoot woman with an umbrella, which shows the history of the village, and its residents are excited by that and they take pictures of the art to post on social media. At another stop, the residents of another village have their pictures taken and put on a wall to create a collage of faces.
The documentary also talks a bit about Jean-Luc Godard, who made the French New Wave go mainstream and is very close to Varda, and who is also still alive. It also references Godard’s film Band of Outsiders, and there is a scene where Varda and JR parody the scene in Band of Outsiders where the three main characters run across the Louvre.
At some points in Faces Places, random things happen, which is one of the details of the French New Wave. Some examples of this include a scene in the beginning where we see JR and Varda dancing in a club, a random person explaining something instead of the two narrators, and Varda getting eye surgery.
The art exhibits wow everyone who sees them and teach people the history of the villages, and some of them are very close to Varda and JR. The exhibits also show that art creates attention and people talk about them by sharing them on social media. Art preserves history, and it will be displayed for future generations.
One interesting thing about the documentary is that it is crowdfunded. In the opening titles we see a list of the people who donated to the documentary, which is how I found out about it.
Faces Places is one of the most talked-about documentary of last year and it could very well win the Oscar for Best Documentary. To fully appreciate the film, there are two films you should watch beforehand: Band of Outsiders, and a short film that Varda made which is also referenced in it, The Fiancés of the Bridge Mac Donald, both of which are included in the Criterion Collection release of Band of Outsiders.
Faces Places is an unusual and fun documentary about the teaching power of art. If you did not get a chance to see it when it was shown in the Vancity Theater, you can watch it when it is released on DVD and Blu-ray, likely in a Criterion Collection release.