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Agnès Varda trails an aimless nomad in this neorealist masterwork

Illustration for article titled Agnès Varda trails an aimless nomad in this neorealist masterwork

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Venice Film Festival begins, so we’re recommending some of the best winners of the fest’s highest honor, the Golden Lion.

Vagabond (1985)

Agnès Varda blends fictional and non-fictional storytelling modes for her 1985 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion winner Vagabond, a portrait of a young woman named Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) who, at story’s outset, is found dead in a rural roadside ditch. Who she is, why she was nomadically wandering about the area, and how she came to perish are all questions that interest the film’s unseen narrator (Varda herself), who sets about inquiring about the deceased. This brings her into contact with a variety of people who crossed Mona’s path, from the caretaker (Yolande Moreau) of an elderly woman, to a former professor-turned-goat herder, to an agronomist studying the decay of local trees. This variety of unassuming figures grouse about the girl’s stench and filth, complain about her non-existent worth ethic, and wax rhapsodic about her supposed “freedom” living a life void of obligations, roaming from place to place sustaining herself however she could, be it through theft, sleeping with those who might provide her some food or comfort, or sheer luck.


Varda intersperses these faux-documentary interviews with dramatic vignettes in which Mona shuffles between run-down locales, her interactions with others reflecting far more about them—their fears, their prejudices, their desires—than it does about Mona. Details about Mona’s backstory emerge, but they do little to create an intimate sense of who she is, as Bonnaire embodies her wayward protagonist with a mysterious mixture of rebellious apathy and closed-off detachment. Mona emerges as a woman whose condition speaks loudly about the callous cruelty and self-interest of modern life, even as Vagabond refuses to make any gestures toward allegory or political commentary. Rather, it captures a more universal sense of dislocation and grief through its highly specific portrait of its protagonist, a woman who’s willingly chosen—through rejection of all but the basest of personal and social responsibilities—to chart a one-way course to oblivion.

Availability: The DVD of Vagabond is out of print, but it can still be obtained from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. The film is also streaming on Hulu Plus.

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