Co-directors Agnes Varda and JR are in search of, and find, a practical answer to the question, “Can art change people’s lives?” In their Academy Award-nominated documentary Faces Places — or Visages Villages, in the original French — they travel around France by train and in JR’s transit van. It’s outfitted with the words “Inside Out Project” and an enormous image of a pre-digital camera affixed to both sides. Seeing and being seen are the cultural imperatives that drive their quest. Starting in the north, they photograph a dozen villagers, each one holding a baguette in front of an open, hungry mouth.
JR’s vehicle is jury-rigged with an oversized black-and-white printer that rolls out giant posters. With the help of their subjects, the filmmakers glue and paste the images next to each other on an old stone wall. The sense of delight is immediate and contagious. Varda and JR continue their journey in all directions but only in order to connect with people, learn about them, and then tell their stories visually. They find a barmaid, a postman, and a farmer, and transform blank, nearby walls into outdoor galleries featuring their collaborators. Gradually, the 89-year-old Varda’s decades’ worth of work filters into the narrative. The film also pays homage to her art and the memories — some tender, some melancholy — she has of making it.
Opens Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission Theater.