Feature Friday: “Vagabond” (1985)

My favorite film of the 1980s? It’s probably either this or Blade Runner, depending on which one I’ve seen last.

Or My Neighbor Totoro, or Bad Timing. Hm. Well, that’s the company Vagabond keeps.

If I ever meet Agnès Varda (and here’s hoping), I’m going to ask her why she dedicated this movie to Nathalie Sarraute.

(For more of my thoughts on this great film, see this post. See also this short and well-made Film Art video essay on Varda’s use of elliptical editing.)

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Style as Imitation

Leonardo #1, page 17 (1987) (detail; First Publishing reprint). Art by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.


My father, who once trained as a baker, taught me when I was a kid how to bake an apple pie. I don’t know where he got the original recipe from; I highly doubt that he invented it. Certainly he didn’t invent the idea of baking pies. And he didn’t invent the idea of baking an apple pie.

He was very clear about certain instructions:

  • always use Granny Smith apples;
  • always use ice-cold water;
  • touch the dough as little as possible.

Since then, I’ve baked several apple pies, and over time I’ve modified the recipe slightly, but it’s essentially the same (and I never violate his prime instructions).

When I make a new apple pie, I’m not doing anything new.

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Some Thoughts on Agnès Varda’s “Vagabond”

Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi), is a 1985 film by the Belgian director Agnès Varda. Varda was part of the French New Wave (with Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol, and Rivette), although her first film predates that movement; some critics regard her as belonging more specifically to the simultaneous Rive Gauche (Left Bank) movement (alongside Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and others). Like all of those directors, Varda’s career outlasted the end of the Nouvelle Vague (c1967); her most recent film is The Beaches of Agnès (2008) (which I think the world of).

Since Beaches there’s been a growing consensus among film critics that Varda is one of our greatest directors, and that she’s been until now too overlooked, too overshadowed. The Criterion Collection recently released four of her major features (as well as a few shorts); that set includes Sans toit ni loi, Varda’s most successful and arguably greatest film.

I haven’t seen all of Varda’s films, and I’m no authority on her work, but I’ve been watching her movies since the late 1990s, and I’m now steadily (re-)making my way through what’s available. At the moment, Sans toit ni loi is my favorite film of the 1980s, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on it. (But beware of the spoilers after the jump!)

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