Vagabond, Dir: Agnès Varda; 105 mins
Given a re-release to mark the 90th birthday of its director Agnès Varda, this 1985 tale of a young homeless woman in freezing cold rural France made a star of Sandrine Bonnaire, and cemented Varda as a director just as vital and innovative as when she began in the Nouvelle Vague.
Bonnaire plays Mona, whom we see – and this is an unavoidable spoiler alert – ghost-white and lifeless in a muddy ditch at the start of the film. We spend the rest of the film trying to discover how this grisly end befell her, as Varda uses flashback and interviews with those who interacted with her as a plot-revealing device. The cast of supporting characters come across mainly as self-serving, and Mona largely unknowable to both them and the viewer.
Even 33 years after its release, Vagabond (called ‘Sans toit ni loi’ in French, meaning ‘Without a roof or law’) chimes as a reflection of the price to be paid for non-conformism: we learn that Mona’s austere life was self-selected – she walked away from a job and comforts in Paris for the life of a wandering chancer.
She seems at peace avoiding social norms and responsibilities and her criminality, insouciance and ability to live a tie-free existence makes the many people she meets feel uneasy. Yet she appears unconcerned: “Je m’en fous – je bouge” (“I don’t care – I move on”) she says.
Vagabond is a brilliantly bleak film by an all-time great French director.
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