Vagabond, 1985

Agnes Varda’s Vagabond is an excoriating, subtly disturbing portrait of alienation and lost direction. The discolored body of a drifter is found in a ditch, frozen to death. Her name is Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire), an inscrutable young woman who comes from a good home and possesses employable skills, but has dropped out of society and chosen the freedom of non-responsibility (Similarly, in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue, Julie’s liberation from her painful tragedy comes from relinquishing all of her possessions). Varda clinically unfolds her life before us through the unstructured fluidity of a narrative, reflecting the heroine’s nomadic existence: anecdotes, interviews and observations by other people who have crossed paths with her, but do not really know her. A truck driver offers Mona a ride, only to be insulted about his vehicle. A disenfranchised intellectual sets aside an area of his farm for her own use, only to squander her time, leaving the land barren and uncultivated. She humors a wealthy, senile old woman, who seems to enjoy her company. But there is no profound connection in those vacuous eyes, only the opportunity for a free drink and means to pass idle time. Along the way, there are several missed opportunities for help and stability: a kind Turkish migrant worker who works in a vineyard, a house-sitter who envies her freedom and simple passion, a research professor whose recent brush with death elicits a regret of abandonment, and subsequently asks her self-absorbed protégé to find the vagrant. Mona tells the intellectual that her dream is to own a piece of land and grow potatoes. Later, she tells the professor that she wants to be the caretaker of a large house. Given the opportunity to experience both, she walks away. Inevitably, she succumbs to the distraction of a primal ritual – the metaphoric struggle of daily life – and surrenders to the cold, hopeless abyss into which she has fallen. What does she want from life? What does she hope to find in the streets? To distill her innate longing into elemental needs is to depreciate the complexity of the human soul. After all, can spiritual hunger be quenched by a scrap of bread, a warm place to stay, and the kindness of a well-intentioned stranger?

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