Cinéma d’art et d’essai

Brussels-born director Agnès Varda was born on May 30, 1928. Her mother was French and her father was a Greek refugee. She studied photography as the Louvre but was interested in getting into film. Her first film, La Pointe Courte, had many of the hallmarks of La Nouvelle Vague  before the movement was officially launched. Her films are characterized by the co-mingling of documentary and fictional elements, such as hiring professional actors for the lead roles and using volunteers for all of the supporting roles, in a style known as neo-realism.

I saw Cléo from 5 to 7 last year with a French cinephile group in Philadelphia. It’s about a two hour wait for the results of a biopsy for a Marilyn Monroe clone – and it ends just before we find out if she actually has cancer. It’s meant to be deep – but since I didn’t care at all about the protagonist, I didn’t feel too invested in analyzing the profundities. Since the film starred Varda’s daughter, I imagine she felt rather differently. Varda was married to fellow Rive Gauche director Jacques Demy. She won a César in 2009 for the best documentary and a lifetime achievement award from Cannes in 2010.

Today’s expression cinéma d’art et d’essai (sin-ay-ma dar ay desay) means “cinema of art and experimentation.” It’s the term used for an art-house that shows non-mainstream films, like the type of place where people understand films like Cléo from 5 to 7 and can clue me in on what I’m not getting.

Four by Agnès Varda (La Pointe Courte, Cléo from 5 to 7, Le Bonheur, Vagabond)

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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