Unlikely connections are at the core of Faces Places. This extends to the filmmakers themselves (street artist JR is in his early 30s, veteran director Agnès Varda in her late 80s), as well as their subject. The odd couple travel the French countryside in a portable photo studio, creating giant art installations using images of people they meet.
JR is credited as co-director – a gracious gesture. He’s certainly the co-author of the art they create, but this is a Varda film through and through. Her status as a stylistic innovator remains unchallenged. A key figure in the French New Wave, she predates her colleagues typically credited with its creation (Truffaut and Godard) and has outlived and outlasted most others.
Faces Places would perhaps be better described as creative non-fiction or a personal essay than documentary. Nothing onscreen is fictional, but everything is constructed, whether it’s the artworks or the interpersonal interactions. Like all of Varda’s films, those constructs reveal a deeper truth about love and community.
The film uses its constructed nature for mischievous creative ends. At one point Varda arranges a meeting between Jean-Luc Godard, her contemporary with whom she maintains a contentious friendship, and JR. When Godard doesn’t show, JR wonders, “Was he trying to influence our film by not coming?” It feels just as likely that the meeting was entirely dreamt up by the filmmakers for the same purpose. But Varda and JR’s humour and humanity make that uncertainty an asset.