Agnès Varda was born in Brussels, Belgium and was raised in France. She attended the École du Louvre, studying art history and gained a strong interest in experimental and radical photography. Following her education, Varda was hired as a photographer for the Théâtre National Populaire in Paris, taking pictures of theater performances, giving her a first taste of performing arts. With no training in film and proclaiming to only have “seen five movies” by the age of 25, Varda embarked on an ambitious and life changing project. While in the small French fishing town of La Pointe Courte to take photographs for a terminally ill friend who had grown up there, Varda decided she wanted more than just pictures. She explains, “I thought that photography was not enough…My idea was if you add words and music and editing and something, that becomes cinema.” Shot in 1954, La Pointe Courte features many stylistic elements that predated the French New Wave of the late 1950s and 60s. As the New Wave became established by such directors as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, Varda’s work was more in line with the Rive Gauche or Left Bank cinema movement that drew heavily from the nouveau roman literary movement and strong Left politics.
Following her first film, Varda embarked on a long career creating experimental forms of cinema that at times mashed scripted feature films with the realness of documentaries. Some of her best known works include Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), the story of a pop singer awaiting biopsy results that may confirm a cancer diagnosis; Vagabond (1984), the non-linear story of the death of a drifter named Mona; and Jacquot de Nantes (1991), which follows the life and death of her husband, French film director Jacques Demy. Among her other films are Le Bonheur (1965), Les Créatures (1966), Loin du Vietnam (1967), Lions Love (1969), Daguerréotypes (1975), Mur murs (1981), Le Petit amour (1987), Les demoiselles ont eu 25 ans (1993), Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000), Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse... deux ans après (2002), and the autobiographical The Beaches of Agnès (2008), which Varda claims will likely be her final film.
For her directorial achievements Varda was nominated for the DGA’s Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary Award for The Beaches of Agnès in 2010. Varda’s films have also won considerable recognition at film festivals around the globe, as well as three César Awards, the French equivalent of the Academy Awards.