This light-hearted and spirited French documentary follows the real-life artist Agnès Varda and Instagram legend photographer JR. It really does manage to capture the essence and power that art has in our everyday lives. Varda, whose unique aesthetic has earned her a loyal following of enthusiastic cinephiles around the world since the 1950s, meets the iconic youthful muralist JR. The two then embark on an adventure around France to document faces and places.
Their fusion brings about an exploration of life and death that manages to be both flippant and beautiful, something so uniquely itself that it seems like it doesn’t care to be taken too seriously. No wonder it won the L’Œil d’or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. And now, it finds itself here, premiering for Adelaide’s film festival. Both Varda and JR share an intrinsic passion for images and how they are created, displayed and viewed. This film traces the collaboration on a roving art project where they develop enormous portraits of people they meet and paste them onto walls, buildings and landmarks throughout provincial France.
The random people they photograph all end up having intricate stories and personal histories, and the artists gain powerful insights into how others interpret the role and function of art. One worker they stumble upon states that ‘art is meant to surprise us’, and in this case, it does. This film has deep undercurrents percolating on issues such as marginalised people in society, the treatment of workers under capitalism, and animal cruelty. It’s remarkable how Varda and JR incorporate these themes in their little project – giving voices to those who otherwise could not speak. For instance, they paste larger than life images of the women who support and work with those at a shipping dock, these women and their importance often being forgotten about in this male-dominated industry. Another example was the documentation of forgotten miners in an old mining town, a town that once saw intense working-class protests in the face of capitalist brutality.
This film really does manage to capture everything both beautiful and mundane. My only gripe with the film was an intense scene that featured some very unnecessary eye-gore. This image unsettled the audience and left me with a feeling of nausea for the rest of the viewing. Other than that, Faces Places is a must-see film for those who appreciate the art world and are interested in how installations are navigated in this modern, messy world we live in. Places, faces, buildings and people are all layered with memories, meanings and histories. And this quaint film manages to capture that, beautifully in fact.
3.5 out of 5 stars