Cancel

LE BONHEUR a film by AGNÈS VARDA. 1965. France. 80 min. Through fields of flowers in the idyllic countryside, the French trailblazer breaks down the clichés of love and happiness in a radical parable.

Watch

To coincide with the French Cinématheque’s VIVA VARDA! exhibition, we are delighted to present a special two-week screening of Agnès Varda’s Silver Bear-winner Le Bonheur. In this feminist masterwork—which the preeminent documentarian Frederick Wiseman recently told us is the “best analysis of how replaceable people are”— the French trailblazer charts a young couple’s seemingly idyllic marriage.

 

The film’s title, which translates to “happiness” in English, indicates one of Varda’s main preoccupations as a filmmaker. Happiness and what it means for different people is something she investigated throughout her career, as seen in short films like Bonheur: Proper Name or Concept (1965) and Thoughts on Le Bonheur (2006). You can find these shorts—as well as a comprehensive collection of Varda’s other films—on the Criterion Channel, the go-to destination for cinephiles in search of acclaimed classics and groundbreaking new films. They are also available on Curzon, another invaluable resource for viewers in the United Kingdom.

 

In discussing Le Bonheur, Varda said she “imagined a summer peach with its perfect colors, [but] inside, there is a worm.” Much like the impressionist paintings that inspired her approach to the mise en scène in the film—tucked away picnic grounds, picturesque townscapes, gleaming ponds—melancholy hides behind scenes of joy throughout its course, rendering Varda’s vision of bonheur with a profound and inescapable sadness.

 

 

“In a world full of prefabricated images of happiness it’s interesting to take apart the clichés.” AGNÈS VARDA

 

Le Bonheur suggests happiness could not exist without “the worm.” Three decades later, Varda’s interviews with the denizens of Fontenay-aux-Roses in her short documentary Happiness? The People of Fontenay Respond (1995) reveal happiness can mean anything for anyone—some responses include “a dream,” “dancing” and “life”—so pinning down a definition for both the concept, and the film, is inevitably futile. But Le Bonheur’s intentions are not defining happiness, rather offering viewers the chance to get lost in Varda’s own sense of happiness, which she links to “being outside, surrounded by nature, and [having] picnics, with a family.”

 

Pioneering filmmaker Agnès Varda began her career as a staff photographer at Jean Vilar’s Théâtre National Populaire in the 1950s. In 1955, she directed her feature debut La Pointe Courte with her own savings. Despite the fact that it never got a proper theatrical release, the film was well received at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival and counted renowned critic André Bazin as one of its biggest supporters. It was Varda’s sophomore feature, Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), that caused a shockwave among filmgoers and led film historian Georges Sadoul to retroactively claim La Pointe Courte as “the first film of the nouvelle vague.” In the five decades that followed, Varda continued making sophisticated films about sex, politics, love, and loss among other subjects. Her cinematic acuity will forever be missed.

 

Over the holidays, we’re taking a more relaxed pace; our films will screen for two weeks.

 

Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer. Special thanks to Rosalie Varda, Brett Sharlow, the Criterion Channel, Curzon, Frédérique Rouault & MK2 Films.

 

To see more films by Agnès Varda, including in-depth supplements on the director and the films, visit the Criterion Channel.