Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks the word "boulangerie" sounds naughty.
"Like a village, you could find everything you needed…"
In 1975, filmmaker Agnès Varda didn't have to go far to find material for her documentary, Daguerréotypes. The Rue Daguerre's shopkeepers let Varda show their lives to the world, including public television viewers in the United States. While the film itself has faded a bit with age, the shopkeepers' daily work might shine even more brightly with time.
Daguerréotypes opens with a look at one of Varda's favorite businesses, a perfumery (actually it opens with an introduction by magician Mystag, but more on that later). The camera scans the perfumery's windows and interior shelves, lovingly revealing the range of bottles. Varda's daughter buys a cologne, discussing the purchase with the perfumer, as street noise provides background music. There are a lot of scenes like that in Daguerréotypes, with the camera just recording reality: stores cluttered with goods, opening the wooden shutters for the day, customers talking in the street.
That's not all there is, though. Varda isn't just doing cinema verite; she's creating an ode to the shops of Rue Daguerre. That's evident in her brief narration, which has a poetic rhythm. It's also evident when the magician returns, his performance at a local cafe intercut with scenes of the shopkeepers at work. Varda repeats this trick with scenes from an accordion shop, giving the shopkeepers a musical background instead of street noise. These juxtapositions suggest that what the butcher and baker do is more magical than an illusion with a bloody knife, and as artistic as a musical performance.
Most of the documentary does rely on ambient sound, so you might be able to hazard it without the subtitles, but there are a few scenes—as when a few of the street's merchants are asked about their dreams and their Sundays off—when the interviewer takes over.
The picture, of course, has flecks and fading. The ambient sound will really make you feel like you're on the spot, catching the bits of gossip in passing.
A short, "Rue Daguerre in 2005," shows that the accordion shop remains and talks to a couple of people who factored in the 1975 film: a grocer who had just moved into the neighborhood before Varda started filming and a woman who was training for a professional skating career. There are also glimpses of the current street and a postcard view from the 1400s.
Other features include "Bread, Painting and Accordion," which includes bits of a comedy short shot in the local boulangerie (a bakery, in case you didn't know); a look at the Fete de la Musique in 2005; and examples of daguerrotypes from a museum exhibit. The "also by Agnes Varda" section hides a short film, "T'as de Beaux Escaliers, Tu Sais…," which uses film techniques and clips to honor the Cinémathèque. A booklet features a short essay by Varda.
Daguerréotypes isn't quite enough to make you feel like you like a resident of Rue Daguerre circa 1975—nothing could do that—but it will at least make you feel like you're really there for a visit. The extras do a good job of putting the movie in current perspective.
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