Director: Agnes Varda
Writer: Agnes Varda
Cinematographers: Jean-Yves Escoffier; Pascal Rabaud; Claire Duguet; J. Marques; Markus Seitz; Ricky Kearney; John Holosko; Per Olak Csongova
by Jon Cvack
The DVD was comprised of three segments for the film. You got done with one and it’d take you back to the menu to start the other. They played like short films sharing the common theme of photography.
The first involved a fascinating exhibit. Through a wildly expensive and long term research project the artist, Ydessa Hendeles, found every single black and white picture she could locate that contained a teddy bear. She framed and arranged them in an incredibly dense fashion from from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, across two stories. People would have to get on ladders to see the top. Others would have to get on their hands and knees to see those at the bottom. At first the exhibit seems tacky and superficial in theme. But then the pictures start filling the screen and you realize that the bear is beyond the focus. It’s about the people. Caught in the moment. Smiling. Kissing. Crying. Often not even noticing the photographer. We see that in many ways the teddy bear both grounds the subjects’ emotions, allowing to drop their inhibitions as they're about to be photographed, along with unifying the thousands of subjects around this silly toy.
And in the subsequent room, next to all this, is a life size model of Hitler on his knees, looking up. It snaps you back. It breaks all of the comfort and sentiment the Teddy Bears had provided. I’m not sure how I felt about this radical shift. And I’m fairly confident that was the point. No matter how similar we all are or what links us together, evil exists and it will destroy.
Ydessa Hendeles is fantastically wealthy. We see her perusing ebay, paying up to $200 for the thousands of photos that would make their way into the exhibit. There’s also an antique, raggedy blue teddy bear she purchased for $75,000 sitting within one of the display cases in the exhibit. I found it odd that although she wished to show the common bonds that link us all and the inevitable evils that rise she was still willing to spend so frivolously. Would that money have been better served to Darfur where another genocide was taking place? Her mom was in a Jewish concentration camp and you can't help thinking she might want to do all she could to prevent such a disaster. And yet maybe she's given hundreds of thousands of dollars to those causes. If an object speaks to you then perhaps it shouldn’t matter whether it’s a Monet or a rare blue Teddy Bear.
The other two segments were a bit less engaging. One involved her looking at an old photograph of a naked man and young boy. She tracked down the models. The boy didn’t recall the photograph. The man reflected but I can’t recall much of what was said. It was an interesting looking at capturing a moment and how a photograph, while providing a visual memory, cannot maintain what was experienced during that memory, neither for the photographer or the subjects. How many photos might I see of myself that I would fail to remember? Not failing to remember the photograph as object, but failing to remember the moment at all. Verna reflects on other photos she took and how it eventually led to her interest in cinema. There isn’t all that much difference in the two. Failing to remember is failing to remember. Yet recollection is a supreme accomplishment. We can see how we got to where we are.
Finally, the third segment dealt with life in Castro’s Cuba. It was an amazing glimpse into the country’s culture and art. Contrary to American stereotypes, there are no militant communists, dictating the citizens’ every move. It’s a humanistic view into the world these people live in. They have sexuality, relationships, family. We see that Cuba is not all that different from our own culture. They demanded the political system they desired just as we formed ours. It was great to see such pure moments captured. The different types of ethnicities and hobbies and dynamics. Verna shows us that individuals politics fail to stand up against the joy of friendship, love, and family. We hear the music. We see the politicians engaging with the people. And you can’t help wondering why there’s still such hostility between our nations. It’s a bit idealistic. But when it comes to the people that comprise a nation, perhaps that’s all that should matter.
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