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Faces Places (Visages, Villages) documentary review: art to the people

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Film legend Agnès Varda and photomuralist JR take us on a road-trip art project that is joyful, funny, and invites us to see the world through truly open eyes.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

French film legend Agnès Varda teams up with photographer and muralist JR to tool around rural France, creating art as social commentary and community project that involves and captivates everyone they encounter (and us too). JR’s medium of oversized photo portraits, often spit out on the fly from his mobile photo booth, becomes a way for them to celebrate ordinary people in unglamorous places as they paste enormous murals of a farmer on his barn, a waitress on a village wall her cafe overlooks, factory workers on their factory, and even Varda’s own eyes and toes on a tanker train. “Chance has always been my best assistant,” she tells JR, and Faces Places (equally charmingly entitled Visages, Villages in the original French) is a fun and often laugh-out-loud funny expression of how the filmmaker approaches not only creativity but life itself, as an active joy that finds poetry in the hearts of everyone and canvases for expression everywhere. (A German WWII bunker than has fallen from a beachside cliff to rest precariously in the surf is the most unusual surface they cover with art, and it’s extraordinary, if temporary, way to reclaim it from a terrible history.) Varda and JR codirected this crowdfunded documentary — more community involvement! — and it is an absolutely wonderful ode to seeing the world with truly open eyes. Even if Varda is losing her eyesight and JR refuses to ever take his sunglasses off. At almost 90, Varda remains an artistic inspiration, nay, a force of nature, whose generosity and creative spirit seems to get enlarged just as JR’s giant photos do by their adventure. May we all be so happily engaged by life and art!


Faces Places is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. See the film’s official site for additional dates and cities.

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