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Faces Places

Cohen Film Collection // PG // March 6, 2018
List Price: $22.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted April 10, 2018 | E-mail the Author
Anyone who knows film should know of Agnes Varda: a film director, documentarian, and photographer who was a key figure in the French New Wave. Her work, which is often noted for its feminist themes and her keen eye for details and people, has been celebrated across the world over the last 7 decades. Perhaps less familiar to viewers is the work of JR, a French photographer whose work blends photography and graffiti, taking blown-up black-and-white photographs and pasting them to the sides of buildings and other structures to create art that blends in with the environment around it. Faces Places is a wonderful documentary that brings both artists together in an overwhelmingly charming exploration of the French countryside and interactions with its residents.

Watching Faces Places, the thread that links Varda and JR, outside of technique or format, is their passion for people of all types. Traveling around in JR's custom photo van, which has a gigantic picture of a camera on both sides and prints enormous photobooth pictures the size of posters, the pair meet with random people in a wide-range of unique and interesting places all over France. Notable locations include a town with a row of mining houses set to be demolished, were it not for a single hold-out resident; a beach in Normandy where a WWII bunker has fallen from a cliff and buried itself in the sand like an object fallen from space; and a half-finished ghost town village where they throw a picnic for local residents who have watched the incomplete city fall into decay.

In each of the film's various stops, Varda and JR demonstrate a true warmth and interest in people that overwhelms the viewer with positive vibes. Jeanine, the widow of a miner who still loves her home, is overwhelmed with emotion when she sees that JR has pasted a photograph of her face on the front of her house that's large enough to cover the entire building. Workers at a chemical factory appear to feel a closer kinship with their fellow co-workers when the pair devise a series of photographs of the employees on each shift to cover a main pathway into the compound. Visiting the port of Le Havre, Varda reroutes JR's idea to talk to dockworkers by assembling three of the men's wives, resulting in portraits of the three women being pasted on a massive stack of shipping crates. Each woman sits in their own "heart" -- the container in the center of their chest -- and Varda interviews them from afar.

The film has a playful structure, with each location containing a conversation between Varda and JR about what their art might mean, the history of their work, and their emotional experience in each location. The film straddles the line between truth and fiction a bit, with the conversations feeling polished up and focused for the sake of the film but clearly containing the two artists' true feelings about their experience. The movie also delves a bit into the 89-year-old Varda's degenerating eyesight, including footage of the director receiving an injection to help stave off any further problems.

The film sets up and builds to a meeting with a figure from Varda's past who JR reminds her of. Although part of the film's ending feels contrived or at least telegraphed, there is a raw emotion to part of it that helps sustain the movie's overall effectiveness. Of course, it's also that while Varda and JR's teasing, unique relationship is extremely entertaining, the heart of Faces Places isn't them at all, but the other people they encounter on their year-long tour. Rarely do films feel like such a celebration of people, of the world, of history, and of the connections between all of them that bring people together. One of the best films of 2017.

The Blu-ray
As with all Cohen Media releases, the Blu-ray art frames the company's poster artwork and the box copy within their blocky red C logo (flipped on the reverse). The one addition to the poster is a banner announcing the film's Academy Award nomination. The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there are two inserts, a brief photo booklet for Faces Places, and a general Cohen Media leaflet advertising other releases.

The Video and Audio
As is to be expected with a brand-new movie, there are no notable issues to report with the film's 1.85:1 1080p AVC video or French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The digital video has a pleasing film-like softness that prevents it from looking overly harsh or cheap, and colors are bright and vividly rendered. Sound, which mostly concerns the conversations between Varda and JR, is cleanly rendered (certain sequences that feel as if they would be affected by environmental effects have probably been voiced over in the studio), and the music by M is beautifully captured. English subtitles are, of course, provided, as well as a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track.

The Extras
A glance at the packaging makes it look like Faces Places has a cursory amount of extras. However, the main extra, "Chance is the Best Assistant: Agnes Varda and JR on Faces Places" (46:38) is a surprisingly substantial chat with the two filmmakers on their relationship, the gestation of the project, and the people they met along the way. The most enjoyable thing about this nearly hour-long sit-down is to get a bit more of Varda and JR's sparking chemistry, although they also shine light onto how they developed each interview or idea, as well as insight into their actual working relationship. The interview is conducted in English.

Three mini-featurettes are also included. The first two are somewhere between deleted scenes and featurettes: "Letters" (3:29) peeks into the making of the scene with Varda's living eye chart, and "Cabin" (3:54) finds them pasting the photo of the goat on the cabin where Varda took the photograph of Guy Bourdin that gets pasted onto the bunker in the film. They also "extend the image" of the photo into reality by piling rocks in front of the cabin, creating an effective illusion, and JR and Varda chat about installations where she used a similar effect. Finally, "Music" (3:33) is the one that feels entirely behind-the-scenes, showing Varda and JR preparing a bit of Varda's home with a collage of pasted objects from the film before sitting down for a brief chat with the film's composer, M.

Before the main menu, there is a promo for Cohen Media, and trailers for The Insult, Shakespeare Wallah, and Daughter of the Nile. An original theatrical trailer for Faces Places is also included.

Faces Places is a warm and vibrant experience, bursting with humor and heart. A must-see. Highly recommended.

Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.
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