Picks and Pans Review: Vagabond
Just because this film is French and stars teen sexpot Sandrine Bonnaire (who made a sensational debut at 15 in 1982's A Nos Amours), don't expect a Gallic Pretty in Pink. Writer-director Agnes (One Sings, the Other Doesn't) Varda has capped a distinguished 22-year career as filmmaker and documentarian with this bleak look at a woman alone. Bonnaire plays Mona, an 18-year-old drifter hitchhiking through the French countryside in winter. We see her first in a ditch. Bundled in rags, her hair matted, her face and fingernails encrusted with dirt, she has frozen to death. The film then unfolds in flashbacks as Varda introduces the people (farmers, maids, mechanics, ditchdiggers) whom Mona met during the last months of her life. The film is a fiction based on the screenwriter's reaction to the very real situation of the no-hope vagrants who die on the road each year. Withholding easy and comforting answers, Varda wants the audience to squirm, to challenge responses to this new breed of homeless rebel. It's not that they can't come in from the cold; they don't want to. Though Mona stays distant and even hostile to those who give her help, we see a break in her facade twice. It happens with a kind Tunisian field worker (Yahaoui Assouna), and again with an old woman, beautifully played by Marthe Jarnias, with whom Mona shares a sip of sherry and a burst of giggles. The effect is heart-piercing. Vagabond is daring in concept and overwhelming in the human devastation it depicts. Bonnaire, who won the César (the French Oscar) for her stunning performance, has provided a character to haunt our waking nightmares. "I want spectators to define themselves vis-à-vis Mona," says Varda. "For example, would you give Mona money or a ride or let her sleep in your car?" It's a measure of Vagabond's success that such questions keep nagging long after this remarkable film is over. (In French with English subtitles; not rated)
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