Three documentary shorts by French New Wave maverick Agnes Varda, stretching from 1963 to 2004, make up Cinevardaphoto (Cinema Guild), a triptych presentation released theatrically in 2004. Like Varda’s recent non-fiction films, these are more film essays than traditional documentaries and connected by the theme of photography and Varda’s cinematic exploration of the art and meaning of the still image.
Salut le Cubains (1963), constructed entirely of still photos from Varda’s 1962 trip to Cuba a few years after the revolution, is a joyous and idealized celebration of this socialist ideal from a young artist intoxicated by the best of what she saw, and while it is organized and presented with the sensibility of an artist, it lacks the reflection of her later films. Ulysse (1982) is more introspective and contemplative, a rumination on a photo she took in 1954 that invites the remembrances of her models and the interpretations of others to mingle with her inspirations, intentions and working methods. It becomes a free association montage that weaves its portrait out of personal inspiration, reflection of the young artist by the older self, material revisits to the scene of the art and the commentary from the perspective of other eyes and sensibilities.
Ydess, Les Ours et Etc… (2004), a documentary on the Ydessa Hendeles-curated exhibition “The Teddy Bear Project,” is the closest the set has to a ttraditional documentary, and conversely it presents Varda at her most curious and creative. Hendeles, a Canadian artist and art collector and the child of Holocaust survivors, created this project after seeing a photo of a Jewish child during the Holocaust holding a teddy bear. The exhibit is constructed entirely of archival family photos from years past thematically linked only by the inclusion of a teddy bear in the image. The film is a portrait of the artist and her inspiration with Varda’s own imagination leading her journey through the thousands of photos, making connections and asking questions that the photos leave open to interpretation.
The films are presented in reverse chronology. The DVD makes this feature the foundation of a celebration of Varda’s short films, and includes six additional shorts as supplements: Elsa la Rose (1965), Reponse de Femmes (1975), Plaisir d’amour en Iran (1976), Les dites Cariatides (1984), 7 P., cuis., s. de b. (1984) and T’as de beaux escaliers, tu sais (1986). Also features “From the Rooster to the Donkey (Hands and Objects),” a 20-minute documentary on her short films, which she made in between her features all through her career, and a booklet with brief production notes.
Cinema Guild also recently released Abbas Kiarostami’s 2008 Shirin (Cinema Guild) on a disc that also includes his short films Roads of Kiarostami (2005) and Rug (2006) plus the 27-minute documentary “Taste of Shirin” by Hamideh Razavi and an accompanying essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum.