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.