Viva Varda!: A Shift From the Classical Documentary 

Viva Varda!: A Shift From the Classical Documentary 

Photo Credit: TIFF

A must-see, whether you know the work of Agnes Varda or not 

Zoe Zusman, Contributor 

I went to TIFF last week and saw Viva Varda!, a short documentary about the legendary feminist filmmaker Agnes Varda. Now, although I didn’t see any celebrities during my time there or get close enough to the red carpet so that Jessica Chastain and I could make eye contact, I found the experience very fun and enlightening about films and the film industry. 

Viva Varda!, directed by Pierre Henri-Gilbert, is an immersive look into the radical Agnes Varda and her massive impact on international filmmaking. The reason why this documentary stuck out to me is because I watched another one of her films, Vagabond, in my film class last year. The film itself was beautifully composed, and from there, I became intrigued by the work of Varda. I thought it would be interesting to gain a perspective on what impacted her life and drew her to the medium of filmmaking as a form of expression.  

Unlike the new mass of American biopics and documentaries trying to retell the lives of various individuals from the film industry, Viva Varda! was able to create a cohesive storyline about Varda and her various passions. The documentary shows her shift through mediums in a new technological world as she tries to find the right way to convey the messages of her work. From her photography to feature films, Varda’s perspective of the world demonstrates her grounded sense of reality.  

From my perspective, I believe this documentary succeeded because it was so immersed in her works and took the viewers through a photo book-esque exhibit of her career. It shows how impactful her work became, not only as a pioneer of the French New Wave film movement, but as one of the first really well-known feminist filmmakers of her time. Varda was able to bring a new perspective to the industry that many directors did not have beforehand.  

What I especially like about this documentary, and what sets it apart from so many, is its focus on Varda as a person; she is the soul of her work. You may think that all documentaries and biopics would be like this, but it is usually the opposite. American biopics and documentaries about individuals in the entertainment industry tend to rely on a few factors: relationships, trauma, or simply the entire work of that person. I’ve found that those three components are often the only inspiration for why a documentary or biopic is made. I know I keep referencing biopics as well, but it’s almost as if those are our new form of filmmaking now — making films about relevant people in film, music, or any sort of field.  

There’s been a mass flood of these kinds of films and I find that it’s stripping the industry away from good, new storytelling. I think we’re at a point where biographical documentaries and biopics are becoming so close-knit in American cinema that it all just becomes a blur. But Viva Varda! transcends that and tells the story of a powerful individual who used various bodies of work to convey a message of social justice and personal identity to her audience.