Updated: Apr 5, 2018
Blu-ray, DVD; 2017; PG for brief nude images and thematic elements; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Chance is the Best Assistant” featurette
IT’S A genuine gift to watch a documentary like “Faces Places.” The Oscar-nominated collaboration of the veteran French New Wave director/documentarian Agnès Varda (“Cleo from 5 to 7”; “Vagabond”; “The Gleaners and I”), and a former street artist known as JR, isn’t just a delight from start to finish. It has the potential to restore one’s faith in the human race.
At a time when the world is so divided and differences of opinion, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation have become pretexts for hating one another, we desperately need reassurances that most people are good and kind – and that art can make connections and touch hearts. If nothing else, “Faces Places” shows that.
JR is a celebrated photographer who travels the world with a photo studio/van, in which he can transform snapshot portraits into huge prints. He plasters those prints, decoupage-style, on any vast surface he can find: the sides of buildings, container ships, water towers, freight trains. Varda and JR, over the course of 18 months, drove around France together, finding a variety of subjects to photograph and display, as well as personal stories to record. In doing so, they documented people who tend to be forgotten by society: families of miners; factory workers; goat farmers.
The duo – Varda, rather eccentric, in her late 80s and dealing with limited mobility and vision; and the hip, energetic 30-something JR – can be a comical, but always appealing pairing. The two, however, have much in common, such as their artistic sensibility, their humanity, and their appreciation of people’s faces and stories. Viewers will certainly come away from “Faces Places” totally entertained, but also likely feeling some relief and hope for the future of mankind.
This Cohen Media Group Blu-ray looks very good, with plenty of detail, true and saturated colors, natural skin tones and satisfying contrast. The DTS-HD audio is also fine, showcasing a lovely score by Mathieu Chedid, and clear French dialogue. Subtitles are, of course, provided.
Extras include three short featurettes. One has a brief interview with Chedid about the score; the other two offer expanded scenes from the film. The 46-minute interview piece, “Chance is the Best Assistant,” is particularly interesting and informative. Interviewer Laurence Kardish asks Varda and JR how they met. Their “friendship at first sight” happened thanks to an introduction by Varda’s daughter Rosalie, who eventually also produced “Faces Places.” The two became better acquainted during the 18 months it took to make the film. What do they have in common? “We love people,” says Varda, who preferred to travel to the countryside rather than into cities to search for subjects, and especially appreciated the fact that JR has an affection for the elderly. Notes Varda, “I wanted the audience to love the people we met.”
The project was partially crowd-funded, using Kickstarter, with New York’s Museum of Modern Art, among others. Explains JR, “People believed in this weird duo!” Varda edited the film, as it was being shot. She and JR recall the terrific response “Faces Places” got at Cannes, including a standing ovation. Varda sums up the reason she and JR work so well together: “I try to be the older wise lady. JR had to be speedy.”
- Peggy Earle