Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi)

Vagabond

…If you go on, you’ll destroy yourself.

Agnes Varda is a woman of her own proclivities; that can be assuredly said. She makes the films she wants to make, without regard as to whether or not others will or should even see them, and then moves on to her next subject. Where Varda is a little interesting, to me, is that she started off with fictional films, and then eventually moved on to making documentaries, apparently evolving with the times as well as with the medium of cinema. The list has seen fit to give us three of her films; a fictional narrative early in her career, a documentary later in her career, and this one; Vagabond, which appropriately enough, as it is found in-between these two aspects of Varda’s filmography, is an odd mix between the two.

The film mixes narrative scenes with pseudo-documentary accounts of a young woman named Mona, a homeless wanderer, the vagabond of the title, as she goes about her life trying to survive in the wine country of France, until she eventually dies in a ditch by a vineyard in the opening scene of the film. It’s the mix of straight fictional narrative and the documentary-style interviews that makes Vagabond as unique as it is. The opening shows a vineyard worker finding Mona’s body frozen in the ditch, and it is after the police are called and they begin investigating that Varda’s voice cuts in, telling us the woman’s name and explaining how she came to be dead in the ditch, in the past tense. Varda is essentially making a documentary about a fictional subject, and as such has the freedom to make the re-enacted sequences the real sequences themselves. It’s an odd mix, and it is this that I suspect has put it on the list more than anything, because there isn’t really very much else to this one. The cinematography, the score, and even the acting; all of it seemed designed to be as disconnected from the proceedings as possible, and to keep us from connecting with the main character as viewers. Thus, when one finishes the film, there is a large sense or feeling that what we have just watched is totally inconsequential, and we don’t care what matters in the film. It’s only exacerbated by the fact that we know Mona’s fate at the very beginning of the film, so the film is an exploration of the journey she took to get there, only the journey is so far removed from Varda’s documenting of it that the only thing that would make the film worth it as a whole, experiencing the journey with Mona, doesn’t happen.

I really did want this one to have a lot to offer me; I was a fan of Cleo From 5 to 7, and I was hoping this would have more of that than Varda’s admittedly dry documentary offerings. This, however, has way too much in common with The Gleaners and I than it does Varda’s fictional work, even despite the fact that this is a fictional work itself. There’s no caring, no emotion built into what we see happening; it is merely observed as a cold and distant fly on the wall, albeit a fly with at least a half-decent handling of a camera. Again, it’s through the film unique blend of documentary and narrative footage that I can see how it made the list, but that doesn’t mean that this is especially watchable. What was just as bad was, even though the film was under two hours long, it felt like it was too long altogether, mostly because nothing of any real weight or importance happens. Oh well; at least I can say that I got through it, and that I don’t have to again if I don’t ever want to.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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