In the wake of climate chaos and man-made horror, it’s a blessing to walk into a darkened theater to experience the humanistic and joyous documentaryFaces Places.” Written and directed by French New Wave icon agnes varda and French photographer/muralist JR, “Faces Places” is a road movie mixed with art, memory, friendship and charm. Already a winner at Cannes Film Festival, one can only hope that this film makes it on Academy members’ short list for Best Documentary come Oscar time.

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Agnes Varda meets portrait photographer JR

A sweet animated title sequence depicting Varda and JR sets the film’s light-hearted tone, which then segues into how Varda and JR “didn’t” meet (i.e. they didn’t meet at a bus stop, a bakery, a dance floor) even though both were in near proximity. But then the duo meet for tea and photographs. With a shared love of images and people the 88-year-old filmmaker (who is now 89) and 33-year-old photographer take off to the French villages to meet, photograph and pay homage to ordinary citizens of the countryside. Faces captivate Varda; JR is a photographer who pastes large-scale portraits on architecture – it’s a match made in heaven.

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Hitting the road aboard the photo truck

Traveling in JR's photo truck, which also serves as a photo lab, JR and Varda hit the road to villages like Bonnieux, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Chateau Arnoux, the docks of Le Havre, and even the abandoned village of Pirou-Plage. A diverse group of inhabitants are encountered. At a former mining town, Varda and JR visit row houses that once accommodated miners.

Now only one woman, Jeannine, remains. As townspeople cite memories from the mines, JR produces epic-sized portraits of miners from photos and postcards. Yet it’s JR’s large-scale photo of Jeannine pasted on her house that get Jeannine’s (and the viewer’s) emotions flowing.

The resilience and loss of images and sight

As the portraits are adhered to buildings, barns, homes, walls, shipping containers, end even train cars, one thing is noticed – these artworks are fleeting.

Like ordinary posters, they will eventually disappear via the outdoor elements.

Playing with the theme of disappearance, Varda talks about the decline in her own sight and the blurriness of her vision. A running joke has Varda trying to coax the always sunglass-wearing JR to remove his glasses so she can see his eyes. Sight, cinematic and photographic images alongside human relationships create the real visions of life.

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Varda and JR are a dynamic duo

Although story and visuals make “Faces Places” a triumph, it’s Varda and JR’s growing friendship that makes the film soar. There is an easy rapport between the two with hints of teasing and mutual respect. “Faces Places” brings this glorious road show from film festivals to audiences in Los Angeles and New York and other select cities this week. Be on the lookout to catch this artistic gem.

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“Faces and Places” is 89 minutes, Rated PG, and opens in Los Angeles October 13.

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