Agnès Varda’s DOCUMENTEUR reverberating in video essays

As result of the BA theory module „Filmanalyse“ at the Lucerne School of Art and Design in April 2023 these video essays have been made on Agnès Varda’s fiction-documentary-hybrid DOCUMENTEUR form 1981.

DOCUMENTEUR (1981) by Agnès Varda inspired us to think about the role of absence in movies. How is absence portrayed? What power lies within it? What varying degrees of absence and presence does the protagonist, Emilie, go through in the film? The mental dissociation, the physical presence, yet motorised action. What brings her back into reality and back in touch with her emotions?
This essay uses imagery from three distinct scenes, trying to assemble an introspective montage in which both presence and absence have a shared space. Quotes and text excerpts are used from Film Bodies: Gender, Genre & Excess (1991) by Linda Williams and an interview with Agnès Varda, by T. Jefferson Kline (1982)


When watching Agnès Varda’s DOCUMENTEUR from 1981 I am struck by this recurring visual motif of the typewriting woman’s gaze out to the ocean. The beach, the sea, the horizon – they form lines or blocks, lying on top of each other. They resemble the lines of a poem, and also the different parts of a typewriter: keyboard, carriage, paper.

It makes me think about Varda’s concept of what she called „cinécriture“, in which all the elements of a film are meant to interact. And it makes me understand how much „cinécriture“ is to be taken literally, as an act of writing, which means: forming lines that can lie on each other, touch each other, while each of them maintaining their uniqueness.


Je ne sais pas
by Anja Hubmann, Nora Grütter & Andrina Moos

Je ne sais pas…

M: « Qu’est-ce qu’ils font ?… »
E : « Je ne sais pas… Tu sais des fois… »
Documenteur – Agnès Varda 1981

A video essay about the indefinable boundaries of cinema direct. What happens through the interaction between document and fiction? How strongly does manipulation influence the film in its representation of reality?

The beach in Agnès Varda’s Film Documenteur (1982) seems to have a timeless, utopian essence. Forgotten memories, thoughts and feelings floating in this endless space between reality and imagination. 

Fragments of quotes and images by Varda are combined in the videoessay. 
An accumulation of loose material – which constantly blends, constructs and complements itself. 



If we think of films as kaleidoscopes of different spaces, one particular cinematic space in Agnés Varda’s film Documenteur might be the space of recurring silence. A kind of spatio-temporal echo chambers in which the spectators are given space to feel reverberations of the multilayered impulses in the film. In Vardas own words:

I tried something new which was to introduce a
space-time of silence between moments of great emotion, to allow the
audience the time to get there or to hear in themselves the aftershocks of
the emotions displayed the echo of the words, forgotten memories (..)

How does Varda understand here space-time of silence?

To think about it we ask ourselves, what is silence at all and more importantly, what can silence be in cinema? What materiality and spatiality can silence have, or better, how are these qualities produced in silence?

Is silence emptiness, is it absence of sound? Can there be a cinematic silence in the image or in the combination of image and sound? What about the space between two sounds in a piece of music or the silence in apparent, time-stretching uneventfulness? What happens to the spectator in this silence?

It’s as though I wanted to use their own lived time in the film’s time Varda described it. Touched by this quote, in our essay we trace the idea of silence as a space in which the spectator actively co-produces the cinematic moment without immersively dissolving into the story.


How can the inner processes of a film character who is not protagonist be analyzed more precisely? By focusing on individual, meaningful actions and statements of the secondary character in question, as well as by deliberately pushing the main character into the background or even omitting her, this essay will attempt to bring the character of Martin (played by Mathieu Demy) – the son of the protagonist Emilie (Sabine Mamou) – more into the foreground in order to offer a space for a deeper examination of his character.


Agnès Varda worked on several films while living in California in the 70s.
Many of them used documentary and fiction in various ways. ‚Documenteur‘ fic. and ‚Mur Murs‘ doc. which were created simultaneously share some of the same imagery and text passages. This overlap of footage and the theme of cameos became the subject of this video essay.

In ‚Documenteur’ the work between main actress and directress seemed to have been very close. Varda implementing herself as a side character who’s only audible but still present, shows how much she was part of the story. The role of Emily in ‚Documenteur’ also strongly links to the way Varda herself was living in the US at that time.