Film-Forward Review: [CINEVARDAPHOTO]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Ydessa Hendeles, subject of
Photo: Cine-tamaris

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Directed & Written by: Agnes Varda.
Language: French with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: France. 96 min. Not Rated.
YDESSA, THE BEARS, AND ETC. (2004, 44 min.)
Director of Photography: Claire Duguet, John Holosko, Rick Kearney & Markus Seitz.
Edited by: Jean-Baptiste Morin & Agnes Varda.
Music by: Didier Lockwood & Isabelle Olivier.
ULYSSES (1982, 22 min.)
Director of Photography: Jean-Yves Escoffier & Pascal Rabaud.
Edited by: Marie-Josee Audiard & Helene de Luze.
Music by: Pierre Barbaud.
SALUT LES CUBAINS (1963, 30 min.)
Director of Photography: Per Olaf Csongova & J. Marques. Edited by: Janine Verneau.

Agnes Varda at the age of 78 is bursting with vitality. Her lively, enigmatic voice is tinged with a hint of child-like joy as she introduces her new film Cinevardaphoto, a collection of three short films drawn from her expansive archive. Spanning over 40 years of creativity, these "cine-essays" are rooted in Varda's first profession, still photography and, as a whole, Cinevardaphoto allows Varda to recount her experiences of photography and time. She relates the moment of the photograph, both as artist and audience, and draws a cordon around it to explore the personal, political and historical.

"Ydessa, The Bears, And Etc." is the story of "Partners (The Teddy Bear Project)," an exhibition that Varda happened upon in Munich in 2004, or rather, it is the story of Varda's accidental discovery of this exhibition and the landscape of her emotional moods, intellectual questions, and spontaneous connections to the work. The film begins with a beautiful floating camera shot, which travels through two huge rooms filled floor to ceiling with thousands of black-framed old black-and-white photographs. In each photo, there is a teddy bear. Moving through this increasingly claustrophobic space, Varda introduces us to the obsessive collector/curator behind the exhibition, Ydessa Hendeles. Her personal account, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, as well as the histories of the gallery building, Germany and of the exhibition visitors are interwoven into a seamless tapestry. All this is set against the often humorous and ultimately poignant backdrop of thousands of children, adults and teddies posing for the amateur and professional lens. It is this juxtaposition of innocence and the larger canvas that is so eloquently captured.

In "Ulysses," Varda revisits a much-loved photograph she took in 1954: a black-and-white figurative moment on a pebbled beach, with a large-bellied dead goat foreground right; a small boy seated center frame, head turned looking back at the lens; and a male nude, back to camera, staring out into the waves. The film revisits the moment of the photograph, and again, the larger circumstances both personal and historical. At the heart of the film is the boy, Ulysses (whose name is also the title of the photograph), now grown with his own child, and his mother, Varda's neighbor and muse, Bienvenida. Winner of the Cesar for best short documentary in 1983, "Ulysses" is a beautiful essay on the meaning of images.

"Salut Les Cubains" is Varda's celebration of the Cuban Revolution. Comprised of 1800 photographs she took in Cuba, the text and images are a historically specific, raucous blend of "socialism and cha-cha-cha." The highlights of this rapid-fire by-the-book litany of the heroism and achievements of the revolution are the tempo driven sequences of animated photos. Unfortunately, the fast pace of the editing, combined with the densely-packed subtitles, makes this third element of the triptych the least accessible and satisfying.

Jane C. Wagner, director/producer (Emmy and Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning Girls Like Us and the Sundance Best Short Film Award winning Tom's Flesh)
February 16, 2005



Archive of Previous Reviews

Contact us