Vagabond (1985)
January 7, 2024 4:33 PM - Subscribe

A young woman's body is found frozen in a ditch. Through flashbacks and interviews, we see the events that led to her inevitable death.

Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire) is dead, her frozen body found in a ditch in the French countryside. From this, the film flashes back to the weeks leading up to her death. Through these flashbacks, Mona gradually declines as she travels from place to place, taking odd jobs and staying with whomever will offer her a place to sleep. Mona is fiercely independent, craving freedom over comfort, but it is this desire to be free that will eventually lead to her demise.

Daisy Leigh-Phippard: A lot of Mona’s tale is told realistically, with Varda’s token French New Wave emphasis on environments, movement and behaviour. It shows the brutality of her chosen path openly, but these little moments of fantasy show how her choices are romantacised in a stranger’s eye. Once again, two young people lost in a world built by their elders (literally) are separated in understanding each other in their responses to these traditions. Yolande has given in to it (and is thus allured by something other), but Mona has isolated herself in her rejection of it.

Andrea Kleine: There were few female heroines that made sense to me growing up in the eighties, an era whose filmic representations were overwhelmed by John Hughes and his bubblegum suburbia, where misunderstood girls were eventually sexualized and therefore welcomed to the ranks of fitting in. That kind of conformist resolution was unsettling to me. Agnès Varda finally gave me a female protagonist who didn’t compromise.
. . .
We know from the opening scenes that Mona winds up dead in a ditch, but I felt an adolescent anger rekindled in me as the film neared its end. It is unfair that she dies, that she loses. Something in me thinks that if I were Mona, I could’ve done it better. I could’ve made it work. But how? By compromising? By staying with the goat farmers through winter? By stealing another traveler’s gear? The brilliantly frustrating thing about Varda’s film is that it doesn’t judge Mona. What happens to her isn’t necessarily inevitable, but it was always possible.

Julie Salamon: In some ways, Mona is really a foil for the witnesses to the last weeks of her enigmatic life, a way for them to voice their hopes, fears, bigotry, lost dreams. And that is the film's power, because it connects us with the way we find ourselves in life reacting to people lying stinking on the street, begging for change or simply staring into space. We step over them, feed them, or weep helplessly for them depending upon a variety of things, including how much room for compassion we happen to have in store on a particular day.
. . .
Yet Ms. Varda isn't on a crusade. Mona isn't set up to be a hero or a victim, nor are the people who make up "society" monolithic in their response to her. Some are kind, some are cruel, some indifferent. They are human. And, through this tough, memorable film, Ms. Varda reaches for our humanity with a force that very few movies can muster.

posted by Carillon (2 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What an amazing movie. It has stuck with me now in the weeks since I saw it. One thing I didn't see talked about much in the reviews is the rape in the woods which really seems to be the thing that starts everything unraveling. She is on the fringes, but sufficient, until that happens. It's only then we see her now hanging out with the large group of folks. It's never really talked about again on screen, but to me that was the point where the wheels fell off for her. And it sucks, you know she is going to die, the movie opens by telling you, but to me it was only after that I believed it was going to happen.
posted by Carillon at 4:36 PM on January 7

I saw this movie decades ago and it still shows up in my thoughts sometimes. I don't have much to add that isn't already expressed in the reviews (or in your comment Carillon). Still, I want to say something like: it's a reminder that everyone has a story. Which is true, but also reductive and cliche. It's a powerful and subtle film. I should revisit it.
posted by Alex404 at 3:39 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

« Older AEW Collision: January 6, 2024...   |  The Curse: Self-Exclusion... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments