Before this film, I was unfamiliar with the works of both JR and Agnes. I had known of JR because he had been mentioned a few times before in class, but I had never really taken the time to do research on him, so this film was also my introduction to both the artists. Upon hearing about this film and seeing the poster, I assumed that it would be a typical feel-good story about a friendship between an elderly lady and a younger man, and that the focal point of the narrative would be about how the age gap between them made them different, but I was wrong!
For me, Faces Places was not so much of a documentary and more like listening in to a conversation between two close friends. The film is about Agnes Varda, an 88 year old filmmaker, and street artist/photographer JR, and their travels around France in a bid to document the faces of regular people in regular places by photographing them, printing it and mounting the “faces” onto architecture. Rather than being a documentation of the travels, I suppose Faces Places is a documentary in the sense that it is a documentation of the friendship between JR and Varda, as well as a documentation of the stories of the people whose photos are being mounted in the film.
Watching the film got me thinking about the purpose of large-scale public art, particularly in the case of projection mapping. I had never seen the connection between public architectural art and projection mapping before, because before this I had always associated the former with graffiti and vandalism (yes I’m very Singaporean HAHA). Now, however, I realise that in some ways, painting/mounting a still image onto a large architecture is even more impressive than projecting a video. How do you capture in a single still image, the amount of narrative and emotion that a video could convey?
Another thing that I found interesting while watching the documentary was that I unwittingly started thinking about the differences between French and Singaporean culture. In particular, how people in both countries would react to large scale public arts that involved them. Near the beginning of the film, when JR and Agnes were mounting the first photograph onto the wall at the front of the old lady’s house, when she first came outside and saw the image she was moved to tears. I remember thinking that if this had been in Singapore and someone had printed the face of an elderly lady onto a HDB flat, I think most elderly Singaporeans would be very unhappy about that!
I did find the ending of the film confusing, as I didn’t understand what was going on when JR and Agnes visited the house of her friend and didn’t receive a warm welcome, just a cryptic written message which brought Agnes to tears. It made me curious to find out more about the backstory between their friendship, and I’ll probably go research further into it so I guess the film was successful in piquing my interest HAHAHA
All in all, this film was what I expected and more! It was nice to watch JR and Agnes interacting and their friendship was heartwarming. It also got me thinking a lot about public art and different cultures’ reception to it.