BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: round two of shorts by the doyenne of the French New Wave.

THE FILM SOCIETY’s jaunt through the rarely seen but blazingly important world of Agnes Varda continues with a collection of her ‘Parisian’ short films. While many in this collection are not as idiosyncratically endearing as some of her best work (though, there is of course her adoration of cats), there are some brilliant and philosophically rigorous moments throughout.

The So-Called Caryatids (1984) looks at Paris’ ubiquitous female nude sculptures. Juxtaposed with these are verses from Charles Baudelaire, the famous French poet who is renowned for his depictions of Paris’ streets, and music by Offenbach and Rameau. The film confirms Varda’s multi-disciplinary approach to film (she was trained as a photographer which might explain why she doesn’t just stick to film) where music, art, photography, verse and literature all coalesce. Opera-Mouffe (1958) is a tender description of Paris’ streets and its people – and Varda’s renowned empathy is evident simply through her camera’s focus on faces.

Elsa the Rose (1965) was the programme’s highlight. The documentary recounted renowned French poet Louis Aragon’s love for his wife, French/Russian novelist Elsa Triolet. Aragon’s staccato poetry matched the sweet (but still hard-edged) love-story, and the chance to see two of France’s 20th century’s literary icons appear so human was marvellous. The Volatile Lion (2003) was a whimsical tale of love and loss, while You’ve Got Beautiful Stairs, You Know… (1986) was a brief tribute to the renowned Cinématèque Française, the cinematic archive which was so influential for Varda and her contemporary filmmakers.

The short film from Cléo de 5 à 7, Les Fiancés de Pont MacDonald (1961) starring Jean-Luc Godard as a Buster Keaton like fop and Anna Karina was a pleasant diversion from the more serious material on display. The final film Seven Rooms, Kitchen and a Bath (1984) was a short film about an angsty teenager, yearning to escape the tyranny of her father. In many ways, this film laid the groundwork for the restlessness of her feature Vagabond. Her short films are so eclectic that it’s easy to see why her later digressive documentaries were such triumphs, and Varda’s ability to tell moving and affecting stories regardless of the films’ lengths certainly confirm Varda as one of cinema’s great visionaries.