Quick Take: Documenteur by Agnes Varda, 1981

Jacob Lacuesta
Nov 16, 2018 · 5 min read
Doucmenteur (1981, Varda)

For my response to Agnes Varda, I’ve looked over her film Documenteur (1981). The film follows a French woman, Emilie, recently implanted into Los Angeles as she continues through life as a single mother. The film’s title “documenteur” means “mockumentary” in French. The film is an autobiographical take on Varda’s own divorce and struggle. This is hinted through various displays throughout the film, mainly with the documentary voice-recording sequence which calls back to Varda’s previous work Mur Murs (1981) which this film is best paired with.

There were several sequences throughout this film that grabbed my attention. The first sequence is when the single mother was at a phone booth, she witnesses a couple arguing. Though their argument seems irrelevant to Emilie’s situation, their words become filtered out. With the audio filtered out, it is better to understand and establish the situation the single mother and her son are currently in. I believe this was fully established when the single mother walked between the couple to get to her car. It was shown that she was no longer a spectator but a participant.

The next sequence that caught my attention was the apartment-searching sequence. When Emilie and her son finally find a home to live in, they walk over next door to speak to the apartment manager. From there, the two are walked across the complex and enter through a wide gap. It is as though they have been led through a portal and enveloped into this concrete monstrosity. More about this later as I discuss the film’s on-running themes. The final sequence I would like to bring up is the furniture scavenging sequence. At the beginning of this sequence, we see Emilie and her son finding furniture. The furniture found are discarded pieces left by dumpsters. Eventually, Emilie and her friend find a piece in an alleyway. They remove the garbage that lay on top of it and carries it away. On the opposite end of the frame, we find a homeless man with a shopping cart digging into the dumpster. This shot is followed by a series of shots of homeless people scavenging through the garbage. I enjoyed this sequence and juxtaposition because it displays the current economic situation in which Emilie and her son face.

Now it is time to discuss three on-running themes of the film in which I would like to discuss. The first theme are mazes. Early in the film, Emilie goes into a grocery store. She states that she enjoys going into the store often because there is a woman that works there that has a specific hairstyle that she likes to look at. Emilie describes her hair as though it is a maze. She further goes on by stating, “I’m lulled by those waves, those curls, those twists and turns. I drift away. I suffer less. Respite. Rest. Refuge. A voyage to the ends of the earth.” (Varda, 1981) We then move onto later in the film. There have been several sequences of the apartment complex with the son and mother walking through it. It’s concrete walls, countless turns and long hallways seem as though the apartment complex is a maze in itself. Emilie finds refuge in this maze. She has started a new life with her son and this mysterious complex is her comfort zone. Another theme in mind is faire- to make. The woman in the film is the image of Agnes Varda, whom is a creator. I believe this is Varda’s philosophical take on how though she is a creative type, a maker; everyone is in the process of making something. Making dinner, making it to work, making a home, making love. This is mentioned in two sequences. In the middle of the film are shots of everyday people minding their own business through everyday life. Towards the end of the film are various shots of people doing what feels to be choreographed hand motions in a certain rhythm — all of them in the process of doing, or making as the two verbs share the same word, in order to reach a certain goal. Both sequences tend to end on a lovemaking shot that rings back to Emilie’s past life. The final theme is the beach. This same tableau shot that occurs around a dozen times throughout the film. Emilie sees the beach as something that though it is often heavily occupied, with constant maintenance, it will always maintain it’s pristine look. This is in a positive note a reference to self-care. This wonderful nature of the mind; though it can become dirty and damaged with each passing day and experience… As long as it’s well-maintained, it will stay beautiful. Emilie’s search for this better life for her and her son is her way of maintaining her beach.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to follow me on Twitter and follow me on Medium for more updates. You’re welcome, film students who need help analyzing Varda’s films. Here’s your cheat sheet for Documenteur. But honestly, this film really influenced my craft and is a treat to watch along with Mur Murs.

Jacob Lacuesta

Written by

Studying Cinema, Communication and Asian American Studies at UC Davis.

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