Agnès Varda, “the mother of the French New Wave” who spent seven decades as a trailblazing filmmaker and documentarian, has died at the age of 90.
“The director and artist Agnes Varda died at her home on the night of Thursday, March 29, of complications from cancer,” Varda’s family said in a statement to the AFP. “She was surrounded by her family and friends,” the family said in a statement.”
The Cannes Film Festival tweeted Friday, “Immense sadness. For almost 65 years, Agnès Varda’s eyes and voice embodied cinema with endless inventiveness. The place she occupied is irreplaceable. Agnès loved images, words and people. She’s one of those whose youth will never fade.”
The Belgium-born Varda, who studied art history as a student, spent her late teens and early twenties practicing photography before endeavoring into filmmaking, pushed in part by her friendship with fellow “Left Bank” filmmakers like Chris Marker and Alain Resnais; Varda admitted that, after she released her debut feature Le Pointe Couture in 1955 as a 25-year-old, she had only been to the cinema only a dozen times.
“I had no knowledge at all, no knowledge of films. I’d seen few films. I knew nothing. I was interested in painting and theater at the time. Then I learned and I went to see movies,” Varda told The Believer in 2009.
“When I started I did not know I wanted to be a filmmaker. I started – I made a film. Then when I finished I said, ‘Oh my god it’s so beautiful – I should be a filmmaker!'”
Varda’s second film and most famous fictional feature, 1962’s Cléo from 5 to 7, is considered a masterwork of the French New Wave: “The first fully-achieved feature by the woman who would become the premiere female director of her generation,” film critic Molly Haskell wrote of the film in 2000.
Over a career that spanned nearly 25 films and documentaries and eschewed Hollywood in pursuit of her own cinematic calling, Varda also directed critically acclaimed films like 1968’s short documentary Black Panthers, 1984’s Vagabond, 1991’s Jacquot de Nantes – a biopic of sorts about the childhood of her late husband, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg director Jacques Demy – and 2000’s The Gleaners and I, recognized as one of the greatest documentaries of the 21st century.
Varda, also dubbed “the Queen of French Cinema,” was also awarded an honorary Palme d’Or by the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. “Her work and her life are infused with the spirit of freedom, the art of driving back boundaries, a fierce determination and a conviction that brooks no obstacles. Simply put, Varda seems capable of accomplishing everything she wants,” the Cannes Film Festival said at the time.
In 2017, Varda became the first female filmmaker to receive an honorary Oscar; that same year, Varda’s Faces Places, which she co-directed with French artist JR, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature; at 89, she was the oldest nominee in Oscars history. Varda said of the Oscar nomination, “There is nothing to be proud of, but happy. I love my own work and I’ve done it for so many years, so I didn’t do it for honor or money. My films never made money.”
Earlier this year, Varda completed work on her final film, the biographical documentary Varda By Agnes. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February.