French filmmaking legend Agnes Varda passed away on Thursday night from complications related to cancer, her family told news agency Agence France Presse. She was 90 years old.
Varda’s fiction films, documentaries and docu-dramas were influential in the development of French New Wave cinema, the filmmaking movement that originated in the late 1950s and produced iconic filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut.
Varda’s films were hailed for their documentary realism, experimentation and feminist themes. “I’m not interested in seeing a film just made by a woman – not unless she is looking for new images,” Varda once said. Her contemporaries were Chris Marker, Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet. She was widely and frequently considered as the mother of the French New Wave.
Born in Belgium in 1928, Varda began her career as a photographer. Her directorial debut, La Pointe Courte (1955), about an unhappy couple trying to mend their relationship in a fishing town, predated the French New Wave by a few years.
Varda earned critical prominence for her 1961 film, Cleo from 5 to 7, about a young singer restlessly waiting for two hours for the result of a biopsy that could confirm cancer. Varda’s other prominent films include Le Bonheur (1965), about an amoral man’s pursual of happiness at the cost of a woman’s life, and Vagabond (1984), about a woman drifter.
She also made the documentaries Jacquot de Nantes (1991), about her husband, the French filmmaker, Jacques Demy, who had died in 1990, the documentary The Gleaners and I (2000), and Faces Places (2017), in which she and French photographer JR visit French villagers to meet locals and create large murals of them.
Varda received numerous awards throughout her career. In 2017, she was awarded with an Honorary Oscar. Varda could not make it to the Oscar nominees’ luncheon in Los Angeles in 2018, so she sent cardboard cutouts of herself with her Faces Places co-director JR to the event. The cutouts “enlivened the somewhat formal affair”, The Telegraph reported.
News of Varda’s death led to filmmakers and cinephiles pouring their heart out. “Immense sadness. For almost 65 years, Agnès Varda’s eyes and voice embodied cinema with endless inventiveness,” the Cannes Film Festival’s Twitter account wrote.