Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

French New Wave film director Agnes Varda has died aged 90

Varda was the first woman to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival

French director Agnes Varda at the Cannes Film Festival    
French director Agnes Varda at the Cannes Film Festival    

French film director Agnes Varda, who emerged in the New Wave of intimate cinema of the 1960s and continued with artful documentaries and films mixing real-life events with fiction, has died aged 90, her family said on Friday.

"The director and artist Agnes Varda died at her home on the night of Thursday March 29, of complications from cancer. She was surrounded by her family and friends," the family said in a statement.

Born on May 30 1928, Varda often used her own life as the framework for her work, which brought her an honorary Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. She was the first female to win the coveted award.

Director Agnes Varda on stage at the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival
Director Agnes Varda on stage at the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival

"Her work and her life are infused with the spirit of freedom, the art of driving back boundaries, a fierce determination and a conviction that brooks no obstacles. Simply put, Varda seems capable of accomplishing everything she wants," the Cannes Festival said at the time.

Varda, who was easily recognisable for her bowl-cut bob, had worked up to the end, with a new autobiographical documentary, Varda by Agnes, premiering at the Berlin Film Festival last month.

Also a noted photographer, screenplay writer, actress and visual artist, Varda first came to prominence with her 1962 movie Cleo from 5 to 7, a film about mortality and the objectification of women. “The style of the film is the writing of ­cinema and it’s not the dialogue,” Varda told The National earlier this year. “That’s why I invented the word ‘cine-literature’.”

Agnes Varda holds the Honorary Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival
Agnes Varda holds the Honorary Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival

In 1962, Varda married Jacques Demy. She made a movie about their life together, Jacquot de Nantes, which came out in 1991, just after the death of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg director Demy. Although Varda carried on making films in the years before the release of Jacquot de Nantes, it was only 1985’s ­Vagabond – about a young woman who wanders through French wine country – that she got the praise she deserved. “It was the only one of my films that was a big success,” she says.

The reappraisal of her career began in earnest after she made The Beaches of Agnes in 2008, an autobiographical movie that was made to celebrate her 80th birthday. In it, Varda picks apart her past, choosing ­beaches as a backdrop to the story. In 2018, Varda was nominated for an Oscar for her documentary, Faces Places, which she made with the French ­photographer and artist JR. In the film, Varda and her sidekick JR, 35, are an odd couple travelling across France and visiting small ­villages in a specially adapted van that doubles as a mobile photo booth.

Updated: March 29, 2019 04:20 PM

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