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Documenteur and the Enactment of Lived Time: Keynote/Hommage à Agnès Varda
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Media Studies, Cinema Studies.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4706-3300
2019 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Los Angeles in 1980, beyond the image of glamorous Hollywood: Agnès Varda arranges a series of enduring static framings, or tableaux vivants, where Sabine Mamou plays the role of ’Emilie’, the assistant of a director, who is busy typing a manuscript an of taking care of her son ’Martin’, played by Varda’s son Mathieu Demy. The title of the film Documenteur (Agnès Varda, 1981), plays with the French word for ‘liar’, menteur, underscoring the role of artifice with which the director aims at a genuine something that she wished for the film to convey. I propose to think in dialogue with this quiet drama of everyday life to highlight the poetics of enactment and the politics of the gesture which are at the core of documentary cinema as film art and screen attraction.

Typical for this playful meta-film, and Varda’s essayistic style, is the humoristic self-criticism included by the end of what seems to be an endless, almost annoying loop of poetic repetition and a listing of words to an occasionally quicker succession of images in the first part of the film. The voice-over, performed by the famous actress Delphine Seyrig, goes on to pronounce a series of words in her suggestive French accent: ‘soupe, solitude, separation, absence’, and where one may just start to think, ‘please give me a break’, Varda promptly inserts a close framing of a bucket of dying fish, and the narrator concludes: ‘Yes, set phrases and explanations are disgusting’.

Documenteur provides a personal note in the form of a scripted, but reflexive mise-en-scène on the subject of urban isolation, everyday frustration and pleasures of combining parenting and writing, living and dreaming. The film was made directly after Varda’s essay film on the mural paintings of Los Angeles, murals put in dialogue with life stories and the vibrant cultural life of the city, a film typically, and equally playfully entitled Mur Murs (1980). Despite the difference in style, the two films overlap visually and it is possible to imagine Documenteur as a personal journal edited and finalized in retrospect, but propelled by Varda’s own life during the making of Mur Murs a year earlier. ‘Mur Murs’ (1980), meaning both ‘wall walls’ or ‘mural murals and ‘murmurs’, mumbling is the beautiful title of a film that demonstrates the poetics and attentive interest of the essay film; a schoolbook example of documentary enactment also in terms of the working of découpage, montage and mise-en-scène, where the framed and orchestrated LA murals an integrated exemplify the cultural, social and political function of art as part of local life stories and communities. As different murals are put into dialogue by montage, the narrator imagines the sum of these spectacular LA murals to suggest a shared ‘dreaming together’.

In Documenteur, footage of these striking LA murals reappears in the diegetic space of a quiet, uneventful drama, where sequences shot on location in a local neighborhood blend with other scripted scenes in the fictive home of the two main characters, or in the streets with the involuntary and, at times, apparently collaborative presence of locals and people passing by.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019.
Keywords [en]
Agnès Varda
National Category
Studies on Film
Research subject
Cinema Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-173233OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-173233DiVA, id: diva2:1351917
Conference
Visible Evidence XXVI, Los Angeles, California, USA, 24-28 July, 2019
Funder
Swedish Research Council, Dnr: 2016-02504Available from: 2019-09-17 Created: 2019-09-17 Last updated: 2019-09-17Bibliographically approved

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