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 Video and Audio
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.