Vagabond (1985)

vagabond 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She has no home.

Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) is a young woman of about 20 who wanders the South French countryside in the dead of winter searching for food and money. She camps out in a small tent wherever there is space including at one point even a cemetery. She is offered a few odd jobs here and there, but she never lasts long in them and resents being ‘bossed around’. She makes a few acquaintances along the way and even a couple of male lovers, but like with her jobs she doesn’t get settled with anyone for too long.

The best aspect of this critically acclaimed French film that is directed by the legendary Agnes Varda is that it avoids the political correctness. Most films especially Hollywood ones tend to portray the poor and homeless as humble and contrite, but the main character here is anything but. She is arrogant and aloof to those around here even the ones that offer her help. She acts strangely entitled in even in the direst of situations and in many ways almost oblivious to how truly desperate she is. Varda creates a richly textured character that while not likable and sometimes even confounding still manages to be always fascinating.

The narrative works in vignette style starting with some farmhands finding her dead, frozen body in a field and then progressing backwards showing the last few weeks of her life and the people that she met. To some degree this is interesting as it reveals how others see her some of whom are even jealous of her ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ while also exploring how everyone can make a lasting impression on others even if they seem insignificant and the encounter brief. However, the segments where these characters speak directly to the camera comes off as jarring, clumsy and heavy-handed and it would’ve been nice had these same reactions been worked into the story in more of a subtle and sophisticated way.

My biggest issue with the film and in many ways it’s most disappointing aspect is that we learn nothing of this woman’s background. What exactly brought her to do this? Was it by choice or circumstances? Where’s her family and what about her upbringing? None of this is shown or talked about making this character study not only frustrating, but incomplete.

The character also gets sexually assaulted at one point, which to a degree brings added realism, but she is shown not to suffer any post-traumatic stress from the incident, which was not believable. Also, having the film begin with her death hurts the tension and it would’ve been more compelling had we not known her ultimate fate until the very end.

vagabond 2

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 4, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Agnes Varda

Studio: MK2 Diffusion

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection)

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