Documenteur ★★★★½

When starting the sixth "series" of the Varda Criterion set, dubbed "In California," I was simultaneously excited and nervous to see how she would tackle America. Excited for obvious reasons, when Varda is at her best she can be romantic, acidic and insightful all in a single gesture. I was nervous, or something close to it, that whatever creative expressions would be contained on the disc would be impacted by my having lived here.

With Lions Love, we have Varda trying to incorporate what she perceives as America into a film about making a movie in Hollywood and about Hollywood. It's utterly chaotic and kitschy, a fun house-style distortion of 20th century American culture that evokes (galaxy brain comp incoming) the wistful Mother franchise of JRPGs. In Mur Murs, Agnès tackles L.A. from a visual perspective, while peppering in the culture and individuals responsible for their creation. In both cases, the films were enjoyable but missed the mark. Lions Love is a bit too oblique and its thesis somewhat rote. Mur Murs captures a beautiful tapestry of California culture, but ultimately as vibrant as it looks, it can't probe deeply enough to put itself over the top.

Documenteur gave me the Varda in America experience I wanted by putting... Varda in America, at least in a sense. It's the story of a French expat and her young son, played by Varda's own son, Mathieu Demy. The film fully grounds itself in the perspective of a "foreigner" in southern California. Here, Varda's penchant for camera voyeurism is not only a lens into the everyday Angelenos, but fosters the protagonist's sense of total detachment.

I don't want to get too ahead of myself, but at this moment, I feel like Varda's "emotion picture" is a masterpiece, maybe even her masterpiece. Even if it doesn't quite reach that peak, I still think it's confidently one of her best - tender, lyrical, and beautiful. It could have used another twenty minutes to help flesh the mother's arc, but the relative lack of conflict helps to make the slice of life all the more genuine.

I loved this. To anyone reading, please check out Mur Murs first then give this a watch. Really great pair of films.

Zachary liked these reviews