Faces Places Blu-ray Review
On paper, FACES PLACES seems like a vanity project for its creators. My initial suspicions were reaffirmed by the film’s Blu-ray cover highlighting that the documentary was nominated for an Oscar last year, as well as several glowing reviews. But those inklings were wrong. My uncertainty was quickly to put the rest as I found time melting away and the near 90-minute runtime becoming a meaningful experience that was profound and short. While I personally wouldn’t have give FACES PLACE the gold statue, based on its competition, I certainly agree with the Academy that it’s one of the 2017’s best documentaries.
Agnes Varda is an elderly filmmaker, who’s IMDB is filled with shorts and a handful of full-length features, that seems ready for one last artistic hurrah. She joins avant-garde artist, JR, on a cross country journey through the French countryside. On this journey they meet with citizens, ranging from lower to middle class. They very rarely highlight the upper-middle class or rich people they encounter (if any). If that was their intention, they were able to convey the often overlooked working class of France. The audience meets a wide range of people, from farmers and miners to young townsfolk scrolling through their phone, surprised by the face-to-face interaction and film cameras.
Both Varda and JR are credited as co-directors and co-writers, and I’m sure that both would heap praise on either as the true driving force behind the film. FACES PLACES comes several years after the two had met, but what we’re treated to is something deeper, a friendship that tears down the age barrier and sews them together with what makes them of the same cloth, art. JR’s idea is to capture images of the people they meet and blow up their image, in black and white, and paste it on the sides of buildings and objects to further represent that person’s place or status in life.
This allows for Varda to capture a specific commentary of which they hope to relay to the audience. They’re looking to say something specific to the person their documenting in their art, but they’re also commenting on a bigger message about life. They look to show a person’s importance to their community, to their friends and family, or to their fellow countryman. In this project, they’re looking to show how everyone universally feels specific emotions, like sadness and love, or how we all look for the same comforts, like acceptance and the affection of another.
There’s probably more to be said in FACES PLACES, but I probably missed it because the film is subtitled and most of my time was spent taking in the images during quiet moments, but digesting Varda’s words when she spoke. While JR has some interesting musings, Varda seems more careful about her words. There are some moments towards the end where she should be expressing frustration and bitterness, but she doesn’t.
While not being emotionally drawn in, I felt a tear in my eye during the end. That’s thanks to the beautiful journey that Varda and JR take the viewers on. There’s a profound series of statements about life, intentional or not. There’s also something to be said about their friendship and companionship. While most of the time is spent telling the stories of others, the bond that Varda and JR make and nurture is something we can all take note of and learn from.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 1:85:1) The picturesque French countryside and the people that JR and Varda meet are all captured wonderfully on this blu-ray. This movie could serve as a travel ad for the beauty offered in France.
Audio: (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) I can never tell if something is off about audio in a film with subtitles, but I assume that everything is on point as I never felt like the discussions being held were too low in volume.
Chance is the Best Assistant: Agnes Varda and JR on FACES PLACE (46:39): This is a perfect companion piece to the film. The interviewer sits down with the film creators and hashes out some of the film’s lingering questions, how it all came about, as well as several specific scenes
Letters (3:29): This is an interesting art idea, where people hold letters on a descending set of stairs to replicate the look of an eye doctor’s vision board; scrambled with letters, shrinking in descent. I can see why it doesn’t necessarily fit the art narrative of the film, but I wish it was a part of it.
Cabin (3:54): This is a short scene where the two discuss potential art ideas on the side of buildings along the sea.
Music (3:33): In this feature, JR and Varda speak with the composer of the film, Mathieu Chetlid. There’s not much to this feature other than the trio discussing project ideas.