I’ve exhausted my thesaurus trying to find new words to describe Faces Places: “charming” and “disarming” seem too obvious and overused. Suffice it to say that this collaboration between photographer and installation artist JR (age 33) and beloved French filmmaker Agnès Varda (age 88) is inspired and irresistible.

On the surface, their movie is simplicity itself: two highly creative people, celebrating their newfound friendship, set off on a series of adventures. Their goal is to visit out-of-the-way villages in France, meet interesting and colorful people, and ask them to participate in JR’s photographic exhibits: gigantic black & white photos pasted on the walls of barns, old buildings, a stack of shipping containers, a factory water tank, and the like.

In recent years Varda has made a specialty of impromptu films in which she brings her artist’s sensibility and photographer’s eye to seemingly ordinary people, especially women. This makes her a perfect partner for JR, a free spirit who expresses himself on a much larger scale but shares Varda’s interest in exposing the beauty of the commonplace.

Their film is self-aware; we see the partners discuss their plans and occasionally clash, but Faces Places eschews cleverness for its own sake. There are references to Varda’s earlier work and her association with the French New Wave. I won’t spoil a bittersweet climactic sequence that is spurred by a possible reunion.

I don’t need a thesaurus to describe my reaction to Faces Places. I can sum it up in two words: pure pleasure.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024