Faces Places, in the classic sense, is hardly a movie at all. There’s no drama, no character arcs, no real story to speak of, but the absence of such things is ultimately to the film’s benefit. This is, by the most literal definition of the term, a feel good film. It’s aim is to make the audience happy, and it succeeds marvelously at doing so.
Legendary filmmaker Agnes Varda is 89 years old. Contemporary artist/filmmaker JR is 33. Their unlikely friendship bridges the decades through a shared art project. Together, they will drive through rural France in JR’s specialized truck (which doubles as a photo booth and a giant printer) in search of villagers and their stories. They will listen to these stories, they will take photos of the villagers, and then they will plaster giant prints of these images onto the local architecture.
And that’s just what they do.
And it is delightful.
The playful tone is congruent to the lovely central friendship, making for an experience that goes down as easily as your favorite beverage (water for me, but that’s just not good prose). I am wholly unfamiliar with Varda’s work, and I’ve never even heard of JR before Faces Places, but this lack of knowledge did nothing to divorce me from the film. It’s just 90 minutes of distilled joy.
Here’s a fun thing which speaks to the magic of Faces Places. In its native language (French) the title is Visages, Villages. How the hell did the title translate so perfectly? How the hell did they find two equally similar English words that carry the same broad meaning? It has to be magic. No other explanation.
I lied earlier when I said there was no story. There’s a little bit of story. You see, JR is one of those Bono* types who never takes his sunglasses off. Varda, whose gray hair is encircled by a funky streak of red, is dumbfounded as to why someone would want to separate themselves from a world of color. It’s an adorable recurring spat given extra weight by the fact that Varda, a visionary, is now losing her vision. I’ll let individual viewers parse out anything further (the more I think about it, the more I want to say), but I will say that the denouement of this disagreement is handled in an unexpectedly moving way.
Take Nana. Take Mom. Take Dad. Take your kids. There’s nobody who won’t like Faces Places.
*Did you know that Bono has a medical condition which requires him to wear sunglasses even when it’s not very bright? Well now you do, so leave him alone!
Faces Places opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.