Iconic filmmaker, celebrated documentarian, and a cinephile for the ages, Agnès Varda may have passed away, but the legendary creator leaves behind a rich and wonderful legacy of dozens of films that will be enjoyed for years to come. From her earliest, pre-French New Wave days to an increasingly lively and personal series of documentaries she continued to create well into her eighth decade, there’s always something new to discover in Varda’s deep oeuvre.
In honor of the master filmmaker and all-around wonderful creator, take some time to check out some of her best films, currently available on various streaming outfits around the web. Here’s where to watch eight of Varda’s best films right now, including her signature classics, some new hits, and even a potential double feature.
“Cinevardaphoto” (Watch on Kanopy with library membership)
Varda’s talents extended far beyond the film frame, and her photography skills bolstered her film work and stood alone, forming a fluid connection between both mediums that was remarkable. Those passions form the crux of the playful and elegant essay film, in which Varda takes on a trio of topics to craft a triptych of shorts that further highlight her prodigious skills behind the camera. Varda uses the film to explore a found photo exhibit centered around teddy bears, to further understand her own early work, and even to dig deep into the Cuban revolution. Only Varda could take such disparate topics and pull them into one delightful whole. —KE
“The Beaches of Agnes” (Watch on Amazon with Prime subscription)
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Deep into her 80s, the indomitable and highly influential Varda continued to tease about the end of her career, while still churning out art told through continually experimental means. Varda’s contributions to cinema and feminism were the centerpiece of her life’s work, and early works like “L’opera-mouffe” make the case for an obvious link between her early visual diaries and the current documentary landscape. That same desire to chronicle her own life moves in a different manner in her 2008 documentary, “The Beaches of Agnes,” an appropriate mix of the meditative and the amusing. As Varda returns to the places and people that shaped her life, she also readies herself to say goodbye to them — if only materially — while still bringing her wholly distinct sense of humor and self to the film. We should all be so lucky to be as happy — and talented — as Varda. —KE
“Agnès Varda: From Here to There” (Watch on Amazon, Fandor with subscription or free trial)
Varda’s curiosity may have been her defining trait, and that curiosity compelled her to travel widely and learn from as many different people as possible. Admirers already know this, of course, from her journeys across France in “Faces Places,” but a precursor to those travels is her 225-minute documentary, divided into five episodes for French TV, in 2012, “Agnès Varda: From Here to There,” which presents her as an absolute globetrotter, attending far-flung gallery openings and film festivals. Her band of friends pops up throughout on her journeys, including Carlos Reygadas, Annette Messager, Alexander Sokurov, and the late Chris Marker (who died in 2012 at 91) and Manoel de Oliveira (who died in 2015 at 106). Debuting before Anthony Bourdain’s much acclaimed CNN series, the style and tone of “From Here to There” is her very own “Agnès Varda: Parts Unknown.” —CB
“Cléo from 5 to 7” (Watch on Kanopy with library membership)
A score by Michel Legrand. Cameos from Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina. A plot that hinges on tarot cards, existential dread, and internalized misogyny. “Cléo from 5 to 7” minted Agnès Varda as one of the defining auteurs of the French New Wave when it first premiered in 1962, but nothing about this film — not its effortless sense of being young, nor its profound anxiety over what comes next — has aged a day in the last 57 years. Cléo’s tragic mantra (“as long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive”) might as well be the title of a Lana Del Rey song. Or all of Lana Del Rey’s songs, for that matter.
That timelessness stems from the fable-like nature of Varda’s film, which spans the feverish 90 minutes that its blonde heroine spends waiting for the results of a cancer test. Cléo (Corinne Marchand) once thought she would live forever, and maybe she’ll live to think that again, but for one late summer afternoon everything that happens seems to underscore how transiently she’s passing through it; whether singing a pop tune, riding around in a taxi, or flirting with a soldier who’s doomed to return to the Algerian War, the self-obsessed Cléo is surrounded by omens of death. Careening from one masterful scene to another, and galvanized by a series of unforgettable mirror images, Varda’s breakthrough continues to resonate for how blithely it tries to reconcile the demand for beauty with the dangers of self-reflection. —DE
“The Gleaners and I” (Watch on Amazon Prime, MUBI with subscription or free trial)
Varda certainly didn’t invent the reflexive documentary but she came very close to perfecting it in the 21st century, starting with this video-essay about the things that are thrown away and what our act of throwing them away says about what we value. She brings an art historical perspective to this analysis, likening the process of discarding waste in contemporary society to “gleaning,” the term for separating the wheat from the chaff — the good from the bad — that artists such as Van Gogh liked to capture via images of female farm workers stooping in fields of grain. Varda embraced cutting-edge tools to render her vision and ended up shooting most of the film with a handheld camera. Is “The Gleaners and I” a documentary? Is it something else altogether? It feels unclassifiable — and that’s what makes it pure Varda. —CB
“Faces Places” (Watch on Netflix)
A moving, funny, life-affirming, and altogether wonderful dispatch from the original queen of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda’s “Faces Places” is the perfect gateway drug into a vital body of work that will make your life a better place. Eighty-nine years old at the time of shooting, and still as imaginative as ever, Varda’s penultimate documentary finds her teaming up with street photographer JR and touring the French countryside in a van that doubles as a massive Polaroid camera. The strange pair make for a perfect duo, bickering with each other as they drive around the country and restore a sense of visibility and wonder to some working class people who are often overlooked. It’s a silly premise, rife with potential for condescension, but Varda and JR’s charm and wisdom elevate the journey into a poignant meditation on time, cinema history, and the bittersweet fullness of passing through a world that’s too far too big to see in one lifetime. —DE
Double feature: “Kung-Fu Master!” (Watch on Amazon with subscription or free trial) and “Jane B. by Agnes V.” (Watch on Kanopy with library membership)
In the late ’80s, Varda teamed up with the inimitable Jane Birkin for two very different narrative offerings — consider them as a double feature, and marvel at both Varda and Birkin’s ability to morph, evolve, change, and entertain in just the space of one year. “Jane B. by Agnes V.” sees Varda giving Birkin her own special survey, examining the actress’ life as she matures into the next stage. It’s loving and witty and wise, and it also leads directly into the daring “Kung-Fu Master!,” which chronicles a bored housewife (Birkin, putting a canny spin on her own issues with age) who falls for a teenage friend of her daughter’s. It never goes where you expect it to, such is the magic of Varda. —KE