Born Arlette Varda in 1928 in Ixelles, an upscale section of Brussels, Varda and her family fled Belgium in 1940 and settled in the Mediterranean coast town of Sète in the South of France. She eventually moved to Paris to study photography at the École des Beaux-Arts and art history at l’École du Louvre. In the early 1950s, Varda became a theater photographer before returning to Sète in 1954 to shoot her first film, a feature: La Pointe Courte (1955). The film juxtaposes scenes of daily life in the fishing village with the shifting dynamics in a deteriorating relationship between a local man and a Parisian woman.
Though Cléo de 5 à 7
remains Varda’s best-known film, La Pointe Courte
has come to be considered a proto–New Wave film
that anticipated many of the movement’s stylistic and thematic hallmarks years before they were formalized and championed (largely in the work of Varda’s male peers). Varda told The Guardian
last year that she didn’t feel that she had been treated differently because she was the French New Wave’s lone female director.
“I didn’t see myself as a woman doing film but as a radical film-maker who was a woman. Slightly different,” she said.
Varda went on to make dozens of documentary and fiction films, including Les Créatures (1966), Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse (2000), and the magical-realist autobiographical film The Beaches of Agnès (2008). Throughout her lifetime, filmmaking, personal relationships, and family constantly informed one another. In 1991, she released Jacquot de Nantes, a dramatization of the childhood of her partner of many years, Jacques Demy, who died in 1990 of AIDS-related complications. Demy and Varda had one child together, Mathieu Demy, who is an actor and filmmaker (his mother was a producer on his first feature, the 2011 film Americano). Varda also had a daughter from a previous relationship, Rosalie Varda, who works in cinema as a costume designer and producer (she served as a producer on Faces Places).