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Arguably Agnes Varda's ( Cleo from 5 to 7, Le Bonheur) best work, Vagabond is the shocking tale of homeless drifter found frozen to death in a ditch. Known as "the grandmother of the French New Wave," Varda tells the story in documentary style, with testimonies from people who met Mona after she dropped out of middle-class society to drift across the French countryside. In seamless flashbacks, we see Mona beg for food and shelter, steal, and engage in brief sexual encounters. Varda records Mona's fall into degradation with pure, bold images and an emotional distance that heightens the sense of isolation and tragedy. Sandrine Bonnaire's critically acclaimed portrayal of the sullen, amoral heroine is devastating. Winner of the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion, Vagabond presents a chilling revelation of how little we can truly know anyone.
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Sandrine Bonnaire plays Mona, a vagabond found dead from exposure in the opening scene, whose final few months we follow in flashback. Traipsing through the French countryside in winter, Mona skips along from one situation to another, more interested in survival and sustenance than making any kind of permanent connection, resolute in her individuality. But she touches the lives of those around her, from a cultured professor who sees in her a romantic symbol of social freedom to a farming couple who offers her their way of life with a plot of land to a widow whose stiffness is mellowed by her directness. Yet she remains enigmatic as everyone projects their own fantasies on the alienated figure who meets every obstacle with a retreat to the road. Agnes Varda's chilly view weaves in commentaries and direct address of the bystanders and bit players whose lives are touched by Mona, but they ultimately reveal more about the speaker than the drifter. By the end of the film we don't know much more about her beyond her steely immutability and disconnection, and Varda is resolute in her no-apologies, no-excuses portrait. It's an assured film rich in detail with an enigma at the center. --Sean Axmaker
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