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CINEVARDAPHOTO (director/writer: Agnes Varda; 1“Ydessa, the Bears and Etc.”: cinematography: Claire Duguet, John Holosko/Rick Kearney/Markus Seitz; editors: y Jean-Baptiste Morin/Ms. Varda; music: Didier Lockwood and Isabelle Olivier. 2-“Ulysses”: cinematography: Jean-Yves Escoffier/Pascal Rabaud; editors: Marie-Jo Audiard/Hélène de Luze; music: Pierre Barbaud. 3-“Salut les Cubains”: cinematography: C. S. Olaf and J. Marques; editor: Janine Verneau; Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; Cinema Guild; 2004-France-in French & English with English subtitles)
Interesting, charming and diverting, but nothing overwhelming uncovered.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The renown 78-year-old French director and photojournalist Agnes Varda’s (“The Gleaners and I”/”The Beaches of Agnes”/”Vagabonde”)unusual documentaryfeatures a triptych of short films that show the power of the photograph and questions the power of memory.

In “Ydessa, the Bears, and Etc” Ms. Varda in 2004 portrays an eccentric collector, curator and artist, Ydessa Hendele, who playfully wants the viewer to discover their own themes in the exhibition (“Partners–the Teddy Bear Project”) when there are probably none except for Ydessa’s insistence that this is a way to create a fantasy world and explore world memory in a secure setting (proving that one sees what they are looking for). The German-born, in 1948, Ydessa’s parents survived the Holocaust and settled in Canada five years later. Varda takes us on a tour of the Toronto resident Ydessa’s home and her Munich museum presentation, which exhibited in 1937 the Nazi show on degenerate art and during the Third Reich was used as a propaganda organ for the Nazis. Ydessa stuffed two museum rooms from ceiling to floor with photos of people (posing for a fictitious family album) and their teddy bears, while the third room had for shock value a real-sized stuffed Hitler kneeling on the floor.

In “Ulysses,” Varda tries to recall what the photo meant to her that she took on the deserted rocky beach in Calais, in May, 1954, of a nude man and a nude boy named Ulysses, from a family of Spanish political refugees, who posed with a nearby dead goat. Varda interviews in 1982 the man model some thirty years later, who is now the art director of Elle and he remembers the photo very well but has no great feeling for it, while the now grown-up family man Ulysses, who owns a bookstore in Paris, doesn’t remember the photo. Varda uses the photo to recall what was happening in France that day (defeated in Vietnam) and in the world during that period.

In the lively “Salut les Cubains,” narrated by Michel Piccoli, Varda shows photos of her 1963 visit to Cuba, who were celebrating the tenth year of their revolution (four years after Fidel Castro came to power) and still hopeful of all the socialist promises to build a better world. The photos are of the revolutionaries, well-known artists, musicians, peasant children teaching adult illiterates to read and the common folks. The photos, some 2,000 black-and-white ones, give Varda a chance to lecture us on the African, Spanish and French (via the slaves from Haiti) influences on the culture of Cuba.

All three short films question the role of memory and wonder if seeing is believing, as the photographs blur the lines between fiction and reality. Varda is seen searching her memories to see how those photos relate to her life experiences. For me the most engrossing short was Ulysses, while Ydessa was the most provocative and Cubains the most informative.

Interesting, charming and diverting, but nothing overwhelming uncovered. The shorts seemed to me like unique home movies shown to guests on a house visit, with the three disparate shorts all personal films that are probably more engaging to Varda than anyone else.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”