Vagabond ★★★★★

You all can subscribe to whatever religion you want, but me? I worship Agnès Varda. 

This film is Varda’s challenge to all of us to examine our discomfort around the poor and the dirty. “Dirt,” she says, “appears to be even more unforgiveable than poverty.” Mona isn’t a likable character - she makes no recognizable contribution to society, she never says thank you to anyone who helps her, and she’s filthy. But there is something moving and almost inspirational in her utter refusal to be part of society - her rebellious and reckless spirit. We know how her story ends before it even unfolds, but still somehow wish that it won’t. 

Varda was inspired to write this by a story she heard from a police officer about a young homeless boy who froze to death under a tree. The story stuck with her because she couldn’t believe that in the 20th Century with all of our wealth and technology, it was still possible that a person could freeze to death. As she researched drifters, she found herself moved by the young women she met walking through the French countryside alone. 

Most of the actors in the film were non-professionals - locals Varda interviewed about their attitudes to drifters. She built characters around their responses and asked them to play them. I love Varda’s commitment to casting real people - clearly she has an incredible gift to empathize and connect with people and I think it’s this very humanist  quality that shines through her works. Even though the film is not an especially happy one, I still found hope in the questions she is raising and in the compassionate and non-judgmental treatment of Mona, played to defiant perfection by Sandrine Bonnaire. 

And on top of Varda’s humanist sensibilities, she has a brilliant eye. The dolly shots here are phenomenal and in a short on the Criterion edition of this film, Varda explains how she set up the dollies so that even though they don’t occur back to back in the film, they are tied together by start and end imagery that suggests sequentiality, capturing Mona’s solitary walks while also emphasizing the progression of the soundtrack and Mona’s journey. 

A masterpiece.