90 Movies in 90 Days: Documenteur (1981)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Documenteur
Release Date: October 2, 1981
Director: Agnès Varda
Production Company: Ciné-Tamaris

In this “emotion picture,” a French woman named Emilie (Sabine Mamou) builds a new life in Los Angeles.  She moves into a rental in a working class neighborhood with her son Martin (Mathieu Demy, the real-life son of Agnès Varda and fellow filmmaker Jacques Demy) while she works as a transcriber for a writer.  The movie focuses on images, memories, and, of course, emotions, more than it does story, but is beautifully filmed and edited.

The story is inspired by Varda’s own life and includes a lot of the interests found in her documentaries from gleaning to human faces.  It’s most directly related to the documentary Mur Murs about mural art in Los Angeles and were made as companion films (and I’ve added Mur Murs to my watchlist!).  The film has a docudrama feel to it and a realism that comes from non-professional actors.  Mamou was Varda’s editor before going before the camera, while a couple seen arguing in this movie weren’t even actors, just people in the area that Varda caught on film. Mathieu Demy puts in a really strong performance for his age, perhaps the advantage of being the child of two filmmakers.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is great for depicting the hidden work of women.  But I feel that Documenteur does the same thing in a third of the time and with zero murders.  Regardless, Documenteur is a movie that deserves greater recognition.

Rating: ****