There’s a wonderful warmth and playful indirectness to this essay/road movie in the classic nouvelle vague spirit, conjuring a semi-accidental narrative in the midst of what is ostensibly a documentary.
It is a collaboration between the legendary 90-year-old director Agnès Varda and the 35-year-old French street artist who styles himself simply JR and always wears a hat and dark glasses, indoors and out – an opaque mannerism, almost a disguise, which Varda compares to her old comrade Jean-Luc Godard, and which irritates her a little bit.
Couple - Road - France - JR - Van
Our odd but evenly-matched couple go on the road all over France in JR’s specially adapted van, which is like a mobile photo booth. They arrive in villages and towns and get locals to take their portrait pictures in the back of his vehicle, which he can then print out at gigantic size, sometimes doing a whole body shot printed out piecemeal, and which he then plasters on to the sides of buildings, matching the sections up with a wallpaperer’s innate skill, though we never see this tricky manoeuvre. The results are utterly spectacular, and often unbearably moving.
Varda and JR put giant pictures of early-20th-century miners on the side of cottages once occupied by these workers, with the huge face of one woman who is the only person still living in the terrace. She is overwhelmed with emotion to see it. You can feel what she feels.
Collaboration - Varda - JR - Bit - Steve
This collaboration of Varda and JR is a bit like Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, or maybe like Aretha Franklin duetting with George Michael. And the pictures themselves: what are they? For all their stunning force, they could be criticised as a novelty, or even a kind of vanity, tacitly contrasting the subjects’ humility with the artist’s immense prestige. Does JR envisage them being up...
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