Released: 1981

Available On: Showing Now on MUBI

Director: Agnes Varda

Reviewer: Sarah Gonnet


We received free access to this film from MUBI, in exchange for an honest review. 

The opening of Agnes Varda’s 1981 documentary spin off (there are links to Murs Murs throughout) opens by declaring that it is “An Emotion Picture”. The content meets this title, as it is an intense study of the psychology of a woman (Emillie) who has recently become a single mother (whether her husband died or left her is unclear). Parts of it reminded me of the anecdotal evidence accounts that psychoanalysts use in their texts, Melanie Klein in particular.

Emillie’s son, Martin, is played by Agnes Varda’s own child. This wasn’t something I knew until after I had watched it, but looking back in retrospect, allows me to see how this will have changed the energy to some of the scenes. There are lots of intimate moments between the mother and son on screen, that were probably far more intimate because of this factor.

Essentially the film follows the narrator’s obsession with words and faces. Throughout the film, we are presented with lists of words and groups of faces. This non-traditional approach to narration has a disconcerting effect, which forces the viewer to examine the world through new eyes. I found myself trying to predict what was coming next in each list.

The discussion of a single mother’s plight of “repetitive gestures” is remarkably frank and is referenced throughout the piece. Just as honest are the film’s lingering sex scenes. Varda uses the film to express things about womanhood which still aren’t usually openly discussed; especially in the filmic landscape.

Documenteur also expresses the complex connection between mother and child. A relationship which isn’t always a positive force; but instead has as many fault lines as things holding it together. This honesty is maximised by the way Varda has cast her real life son in the role of Martin.


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