It’s slightly embarrassing to admit that Faces Places is my first formal introduction to work of Agnès Varda, a key member of the French New Wave who directed films like Cleo from 5 to 7 and Le bonheur. While I get the impression her latest documentary – an Oscar-nominated collaboration with photographer JR, who’s credited as co-director – isn’t entirely in line with early output, it does embody one word frequently used to describe the famous director: charming.
Faces Places bubbles with irrepressible charm. The conceit is straightforward yet ingenious: Varda and JR travel around the French countryside, identify unheralded heroes of local communities, then turn these individuals into gigantic murals. There’s a decidedly working class sensibility to their mission, which focuses on miners and dockworkers over traditional ‘celebrities’. The film is buoyed by a warm sense of humour which is hard to deny, despite hiding a few barbs in its final minutes.
There’s undeniably an implicit political agenda behind this documentary, an attempt to acknowledge those unwelcomed by modern society in a medium best-suited to thoroughly contemporary innovations like Instagram. (There’re plenty of selfies with the murals.) But ultimately, the lingering effect of Faces Places is simple: you’ll be utterly charmed.