Lurking in the very back row next to Meryl Streep and Greta Gerwig in the Class Photo of 2018 Oscar nominees is French New Wave director Agnes Varda. But if you’re wondering why she’s standing there looking away from the camera with a perplexed expression glued to her face, it’s because it really is glued there.
With Varda unable to attend the luncheon, her “Faces Places” co-director JR brought as his companion a life-size cardboard cutout of Varda to stand next to him in the photo. At first glance, it’s just a cute moment. But JR told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman as part of our screening series that it was actually a perfect embodiment of their project’s spirit.
“That moment of going to that lunch was almost like taking an image from the film and bringing it into reality and just moving on with it and seeing the world changing around just because of a cardboard, because of the idea that you can take photos and change enough context,” JR said. “That’s what we’ve been doing with Agnes — take photos of people, enlarge them bigger than life in their own village where people know them, but people would reinterpret them.”
“Faces Places” finds Varda and JR taking a delightful, whimsical road trip through Europe in JR’s traveling photo booth. They’d take photos of locals in small villages, print them out, blow them up and paste massive versions on the sides of buildings. It’s a film about how an image can change your perspective on a location, open up emotions and spark conversations that no one ever imagined before. They take ordinary people in quaint locations, and with some simple street art, they’ve found a way to immortalize them.
“We were two kids trying to do crazy things and see if it works,” JR said. “She’s always tuned in because she’s curious about everything. She showed me how to be curious about everything around you. It’s a real gift to be able to work with her.”
JR said he and Varda have become fast friends since beginning filming on “Faces Places.” And prior to the luncheon, they had never done a screening apart. He decided he would print the cardboard cutout, but was nervous about trying to take it to Los Angeles on a plane.
“People have been so nice, ‘let’s get you a seat, let’s get you through security!’ They didn’t know her, but the idea that she’s 90 years old and she’s never been Oscar nominated in her whole life, they were like, we need to help her, and suddenly everything has become open,” JR said.
JR himself appeared larger than life in front of TheWrap’s screening audience on Wednesday. He Skyped into the panel discussion, his face dwarfing his other panelists on the massive movie screen behind them, which likewise felt like a reminder of the film’s ideas. But of course, he kept his signature dark sunglasses on throughout the Q&A, even at one point pantomiming a bad video connection during the moment when he was about to take off his glasses for the audience to see.
“The reason I wear the sunglasses is because the work that I do, not in France but in other countries, is considered illegal. In some countries I’ve been in jail, and in others I’ve been invited into a museum,” JR explained.
But Varda might still be the best person to Skype with, as whenever JR gets on a call with her, he only ever sees the top of her head. And as a perfect capper to the evening, he dug out the life-size cardboard he brought with him to the Oscars as well as another adorable looking still of her peeking out over the frame.
Check out the video of him talking about the cardboard stand-up above.