Agnes Varda, New Wave director and the oldest ever Oscar nominee, dies

Agnes VardaImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Agnes Varda pictured with her honorary Oscar in 2017

Belgian-born film-maker Agnes Varda has died at the age of 90.

Her family told the AFP news agency she died at her home on Thursday as a result of complications from cancer.

Varda was one of the key figures in the French New Wave in the 1960s, making films like Cleo from 5 to 7, Le Bonheur and The Creatures.

She was the first female director to be awarded an honorary Oscar in 2017, and became the oldest ever nominee for a competitive Oscar last year.

Appearing at the BFI in London in 2018, she told the audience: “I wanted to invent cinema, and be happy to be a woman. I wanted to be a radical.”

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Image caption Varda (left) speaking to film critic Annette Michelson in 1966

The director made her name with her first film, La Pointe Courte, in 1955. She went on to be one of the key figures in the French New Wave with works including 1962’s Cleo from 5 to 7, about a model’s anguished two-hour wait for the results of her cancer test.

She was married to one of the movements’s other leading lights, fellow director Jacques Demy.

Varda continued making acclaimed films throughout her career. Vagabond from 1985, 1988’s Kung-Fu Master, 1995’s One Hundred and One Nights and the autobiographical The Beaches of Agnes from 2008 were all hits on the festival circuit.

Her 2018 Oscar nomination came in the best documentary feature category for her film Faces Places.

The film saw Varda and a photographer and artist called JR journey through rural France and form an unlikely friendship.

Varda was unable to attend the annual lunch for Oscar nominees that year, so sent several life size cardboard cut-outs of herself, much to the delight of the other attendees.

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Image caption Meryl Streep (left), Greta Gerwig and JR with a cardboard cut-out Varda

Varda, who was easily recognisable for her bowl-cut bob, worked up to the end.

Her autobiographical documentary Varda by Agnes premiered at the Berlin Film Festival last month, where she also received a lifetime achievement award.

Also a noted photographer, screenplay writer, actress and visual artist, she often used her own life as the framework for her films.

She also became the first female director to receive a rare honorary Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015.

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Image caption Varda (third right) joined others to walk the red carpet in protest of the lack of female filmmakers honoured at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018

At the time, Cannes organisers said: “Her work and her life are infused with the spirit of freedom, the art of driving back boundaries, a fierce determination and a conviction that brooks no obstacles.”

After her death was announced, French Culture Minister Franck Riester tweeted: “Shaken, overwhelmed, bereaved: these feelings that come with the certainty that we have just lost one of the greatest artists of our time.”

The Film Society of Lincoln Centre in the US, which organises the New York Film Festival, thanked Varda for “seven decades of perpetually influential and inventive work that has moved us deeply”.

The European arm of film studio Studio Canal also paid tribute to Varda on social media.

Film-maker Jorg Tittel remembered her as “a creative life force unlike any other”.

Her family told AFP in a statement: “The director and artist Agnes Varda died at her home on the night of Thursday of complications from cancer. She was surrounded by her family and friends.”


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