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Film review: 'Faces Places'

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The endlessly delightful documentary “Faces Places” follows the friendship and artistic collaboration between octogenarian filmmaker and French New Wave pioneer Agnès Varda and the 33-year-old muralist and photographer known as JR. The pint-sized Varda and the spindly, hipster-ish JR make for a striking pair, and their sweet chemistry and clear affection for one another lends the film its warm, easygoing mood.

Part travelogue and part buddy road movie, “Faces Places” (or “Visages Villages”) finds the duo rolling through the French countryside in JR’s truck. Basically a mobile photo booth, the custom-built vehicle contains a large format printer built into the side that spits out blown-up versions of the images like a giant Polaroid camera — much to the delight of the artists’ subjects.

Structured as a series of vignettes, the film follows Varda and JR as they stop in towns at random, befriend a few of the locals, and convince them to sit for a portrait. Once printed, JR sets about wheat-pasting the immense images onto the sides of homes, buildings, trains, and other objects. The results make for a striking expression of the inextricable relationship between people and their environment.

There are other tangents, such as the one in which JR speeds a wheelchair-bound Varda through the Louvre, in an homage to her friend and contemporary Jean-Luc Godard and his film “Band of Outsiders.” Later, the two attempt to pay a visit to Godard at his home, but the excursion doesn’t go quite as planned.

Throughout their travels, Varda and JR discuss art, death, and her gradually fading eyesight. There’s a growing poignancy as we sense that the filmmaker is doing her best to see as much of the world and its inhabitants as she can with what time she has remaining. Lovely and life-affirming, “Faces Places” is as touching a testament to the endless curiosity of artists and as generous and humane a film as you’re likely to see this year.

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