Visages Villages (Faces Places), good humour on the roads of France

Film still of Visages Villages (Faces Places) © RR

Agnès Varda and JR took their close friendship and good humour on the roads of France for several months, to discover France's villages and meet their inhabitants. This journey was at the origin of Visages, Villages (Faces Places), a feature film whose only screenplay was that offered by the people they spoke to on the way. Here is an interview full of vivacity.

How did your project start out?

AV: It was going to be a short film in the countryside, with no script, in the villages where I like going so that JR, who is an urban artist, could get inspiration from a different environment. But we developed a taste for filming as we met splendid people.
JR: The more we sought to continue working together, the greater the desire to produce a feature film. But still with no script! The strength of this film lies in the way we transposed our desire to produce a film together and get to know each other by sharing the same adventure.

Can you say a few words about this adventure?

JR: I enjoyed breaking free of the anonymity of cities and travelling to these villages where community spirit is much stronger. I liked spending time with the inhabitants… as an artist, I find this type of close relationship much more enriching.
AV: There was a lot of contentment in the villages, because we arrived to present them with an artistic project in which they were going to take part. We offered them the possibility to amuse ourselves together. To play with the images, alone or in groups.

Could you tell us about the shooting?

AV: We didn't drive aimlessly, stopping for no reason. We chose a subject or a place, and once we got there, we let fate decide for us. Or not!
JR: The film was shot during our trips and depending on our respective schedules. We would meet at her house or in my workshop to think about the next steps. We had time in between each step, which gave us the opportunity to find funding to go back on the road.

“The tone of the film reflects that of our encounters”

What did you want to do in terms of narration?

JR: I wanted to speak about Agnès' eyes, as her eyesight is slowly fading, and to compare the way we see things somewhere in the world. We chose France.
AV: The tone of the film reflects that of our encounters. Each one of us was friendly and curious. People enjoyed seeing us get on well and cheerful. They spoke to us as if we were their neighbours. We learn a lot by listening to others and reality is often amusing! This is the France that we met and filmed, a France that welcomes people and is not angry.

How did you manage to combine your special fields?

AV: JR can climb on scaffolding, I can't! On a more serious note, I like speaking to people and choosing their words when editing, to show them off to their advantage. JR took photos of them and offered to take portrait photos centered on their faces or at street level. This is how a postman became the hero of his village.
JR: We always decided which shot to take together. I let Agnès do the editing as this is the part that she knows how to do much better than me, and this is why I've always admired her! I used to go and see her regularly to give her my opinion, and she always listened very attentively. I learnt a lot working alongside her.