What happens when a 33 year-old photographer and an 89 year-old director team up together? The answer, sheer beauty in the most humanistic way possible. JR is a Parisian-born photographer who, thanks to a found camera in the NYC Subway, is now a muralist. He crossed paths with an eccentric and equally innovative French filmmaker, Agnes Varda to create one of the most charming and heartwarming documentaries I have had the pleasure of viewing. Their adventures as they travel the countryside, meeting everyday people and transforming their faces into works of art, allow us to see humanity and the world through a different lens…a most beautiful lens.
Through a light-hearted introduction, we see how these two very different people came together. The process by which they develop this documentary is as casual and spontaneous as the trips they take. Armed with a camera, specialized truck with scaffolding, and a small crew, their road trips bring them to small towns with histories and memories to share through the art of murals. Some of the towns and people they encounter bring back fond memories for Agnes as we, too, join in their road trip down memory lane. The film captures the “here and the now” just as beautifully as it does the past as we see giant murals of faces transforming old buildings into treasured pieces of art. We are a part of the farm whose goats have horns and the farmer who farms 2000 acres by himself as well as the miners’ homes which are slated for demolition and all of the everyday people who are the faces of these places. While taking this physical journey, there is also an emotional one that takes place as Agnes and JR get to know one another. Their bond and connection has such great depth that mere words cannot describe it…but the film, as it captures their expressions, aptly does so.
“Faces Places” is a transformative piece of cinematic art that reminds us of the importance of others and how we see the world. As JR, the sunglass wearing hat-donning hipster and Agnes, the woman with bicolored hair, connect, we, the viewer, develop a deep connection with each of them as well. We admire their skills, insights, and unique perspectives about life. And we wait with bated breath for the next topic of art to be found and the mural to be completed. It is with awe that each piece is unveiled all the while being reminded that nothing is permanent.
Unlike most documentaries, this one finds a way to have not just one narrative, but two. While the artwork that is completed is the driving force of the film, the secondary and perhaps even more important story is that of JR and Agnes’ relationship and what hopes she still looks most forward to— introducing her friend, Jean-Luc Godard to her new friend JR. Her wonderfully rich past is as clear as a bell, but her future is a bit blurry. With the prospects of eventually totally losing her sight, the kindness JR shows her by helping her to see is simple, yet so emotionally complex.
“Faces Places” is a rich and endearing journey that made me smile from the very beginning to the final scene. Its engaging topics and unique form of creativity reminds us of the beauty of everyone and everything, never taking it for granted and treasuring our memories. This is true cinematic art.
FACES PLACES opens on Friday, October 27th at The Music Box Theatre located at 3733 North Southport Ave. For further information, please visit www.musicboxtheatre.com