The Beaches of Agnes, Agnes Varda’s latest, and most comprehensive, autobiographical documentary, opens with a shot of the director walking carefully backwards on a beach. It’s an appropriate image for a film that travels this deeply into the past. From revisiting her childhood home (which she discovers is now inhabited by a quirky train collector), to recounting her first steps into filmmaking, to describing the loss she felt when her husband Jacques Demy died, Beaches encapsulates a singular life with the effortlessness of a casual conversation.
Throughout the film, Varda is able to make profound statements about time and memory with the simplest of gestures. Quite appropriately given the subject matter, director Chris Marker (embodied in the form of a hand-drawn cartoon cat) is on hand to serve as a playful counter-narrator. Marker has fixated on these same themes, and many of Varda’s images would be at home in his work. There’s a wonderful moment, for example, where Varda writes her birth name in sand with a stick, and talks about how she had it changed as it’s washed away by the tide.
Varda has always been an autobiographical filmmaker, and her tendency to reveal herself in her movies has only grown in her most recent works. Although The Beaches of Agnes is self-indulgent by design, it still inevitably touches upon periods of Varda’s life that she’s already devoted entire films to. While the movie remains charming throughout, it will offer devotees of her films a few anecdotes that they’ve already heard. Despite this, the film will likely appeal most to those same fans. Varda presents herself as a confidante in her work, and willingness to forgive her repetition will be easiest for those who know her best.