Faces Places Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Agnès Varda, JR
  • Directors: Agnès Varda, JR
  • Producers: Rosalie Varda, Charles Cohen
  • Format: AC-3, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Rated: PG
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: March 6, 2018
  • Run Time: 89 minutes

        Faces Places is an enjoyable and crowd-pleasing documentary, but it is also very easy to see why it did not win Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Academy Awards. Although the Academy loves movies about the love of movies, and a documentary about a leading figure of the French New Wave fits the bill, it is often politically and message-driven films that are awarded, especially in this category. Icarus was this year’s Citizenfour, a real-life thriller about Russia’s doping whistleblower, but where Faces Places lacks the suspense and intensity of this year’s winner, it has plenty of heart.

        Faces Places makes up in heart and creativity what it lacks in plot and purpose. For no discernible reason other than the amusement of viewers, 89-year-old French filmmaker Agnès Varda and 33-year-old photographer and street artist JR go on a  road trip throughout the countryside of France in a novelty photo truck that is able to take and print large photos for impromptu art projects along the way. There is a whimsical irreverence to the entire endeavor, and this is mostly due to the wonderful way the two artists are able to collaborate, despite being an obvious odd couple.

        Despite the collaboration, Varda’s style can distinctly be seen in the filmmaking of Faces Places, particularly the way that it is shot and edited. This might seem off-balance if it weren’t for the fact that JR seems to control the direction of the road trip itself. Although Varda offers a few ideas for street art projects along the way, she is mostly dismissed (and even laughed at for one suggestion), and JR steers them toward the ideas he finds most interesting. This can often make Faces Places feel like a documentary by Varda about JR, if it weren’t for their personal interaction along the way.

        When they aren’t pasting photos of people they meet onto walls and buildings along the way, Faces Places resembles a typical road trip film. Varda and JR have conversations that also give us some context about their lives and careers. Despite being creative kindred spirits, there are also moments where they disagree about topics, leading to bickering banter between them. Even in these moments, however, the topics never go very deep below the surface, like the brief visits to each locale. This is an enjoyable documentary, even if it often feels somewhat inconsequential.

        The Blu-ray release includes a handful of special features, one of which is surprisingly extensive. There are two features that just seem to be deleted segments from the film, one focusing on a project where people hold letters instead of showing their faces in the photos and the other a cabin where they consider pasting photos. There is also a short featurette about a project that Varda has for Faces Places composer Mathieu Chedid. The last and best of the extras is a 46-minute interview with Varda and JR discussing the project and their friendship.

Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance:  7/10
Special Features: 7.5/10

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