Welcome to MAI 12: Reframing Varda

Dearest MAI Readers,

This is the third time this year that we have had the pleasure of offering you a brand-new set of feminist readings. Given the contents of our previous issues, which featured a range of novel and creatively diverse discourses and methods for researching and discussing visual culture, this collection may seem rather traditional in its focus. Some may even see it as an unexpected return to a more old-school style of academic analyses. In fact, this slight return represents a celebration of a multimedia female artist who was the exact opposite of ‘traditional’.

Agnès Varda, whom our feminist authors here ‘reframe’, gave the global cineaste community such a breadth of beautiful filmic, visual, and political commentary that we may never tire of discussing her. From her earliest directorial debut, La Pointe Courte (1955), through the unforgettable and always mesmerising nouvelle vague masterpiece Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), to her final self-reflective film, Varda by Agnès (2019), she stood out as the caring, sensitive pioneer of both serious social commentary and cheeky, flippant remarks, which showed her distance to herself and the often-challenging surroundings of the patriarchally structured world of media.

However, Varda’s experiments with intellectual distance, although sometimes sarcastically humorous, were never demeaning. Each of her characters, lines of dialogue, photographs, film frames, or even edits vibrated with a profound sense of dignity she saw in each being. That’s why, we feel, she kept appealing to the aesthetic and social sensitivities of her worldwide audiences and creative peers.

Yes, Varda won acclaim and recognition from critics and festival juries such as only a few female artists during her lifetime could match, but that’s not why we love and appreciate her at MAI. This issue is neither about Agnès Varda, the trophy winner, nor Agnès Varda, the auteur.

Our specialist authors ‘reframe’ her here as a source of constant inspiration, the brave artist who pondered on the surrounding reality not just through stories but through what occupied her frames on the screen and in print. Like Varda’s projects, the contributors to this issue always put her image at the centre of their reflection. A single picture opens a debate on sometimes intangible feelings and thoughts that cannot be verbally captured.

And this is how this focus issue came into being. Rewatching Varda’s work with their colleagues and friends during the lockdown, our guest editors, Nicole Fayard and Erica Sheen, wanted to delve into recent posthumous responses to her films and photography. Later, having secured funding from the University of York, they organised a conference, ‘Reframing Varda’, in September 2022. What you are about to read is a set of fresh philosophical and feminist re-readings of Varda’s output all of which originated from that event.

We hope these articles will inspire you not only to watch Varda again—after all, we expect that most of our readers return to her now and again anyway—but to find some optimism, and a positive mindset to deal with the pain, grief and sadness that can often feel overwhelming in today’s war-riven world. We are deeply saddened by the news reports coming from Gaza, Ukraine, and many other places around the globe where innocent people, including children and women, are losing their lives on a daily basis, victims of patriarchal and political aggression.

Although we are aware that we cannot find an immediate remedy for war and conflict, we return to Agnes Varda’s output to offer a tiny drop of optimism, small consolation, or emotional reassurance. Knowing that we have no healing powers, rethinking her dedication to ethical feminist criticism, to love, care and the often-unnoticed complex beauty of life, we feel reinvigorated in our faith in humanity. Perhaps Varda’s attention to detail is the only way to continue the feminist project to support those in need without taking sides, judging, or falling into self-righteousness and lust for power.

We are particularly proud of the thought-provoking and learned articles in this dossier, all of which demonstrate that feminist criticism can be forwarded through delicate and subtle attention to small moments, objects, figures and millions of meaningful shapes and shades one can spot in Varda’s multimedia work. We offer them to you here in the hope that they speak to you, as they have us.


With feminist hope for a better future, and in solidarity with everyone subjected to political injustice,


Anna Misiak & Houman Sadri

Reframing Varda: Introduction

by & Nicole Fayard

Focus Issue: Intro

In their introductory article, our guest editors offer their thoughts on the origin and contribution of this new ‘Reframing Varda’ collection.


‘She Knew What She Wanted to Do, She Did It’: A Conversation



Speaking to MAI, Flitterman-Lewis talks about her friendship with Varda, her collaborations and the critical reception of her work.


The Sunflower’s Redemption: Agnès Varda’s Life & Art


Critical Reflection

Flitterman-Lewis explores the power of the sunflower signalling transformations of self and art in Varda’s six-decade career.


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Subversive Role of Music and Sound in Le bonheur & Cléo de 5 à 7


Critical Reflection

Farrell explores how dissonance between image, music, and sound is used in Le bonheur and Cléo de 5 à 7 to interrogate patriarchal constructs.


Chronic Caring


Critical Reflection

Stob analyses Varda’s short 7P., Cuis. S. de b… (à saisir) to demonstrate its radically original take on care, its time, and its cost.


The Texture of Time: Varda & the Possibility of a Feminist Essay Film


Critical Reflection

Examining how Varda confronts biological time with cinematic time, Tuan explores her feminist use of the essayistic form as self-portraiture.


The Ethics of the Unseen: Care & Feminist Vision in Visages Villages


Critical Reflection

Oliver-Powell considers practices of care in the personal, artistic, and working relationships between filmmakers and their subjects.


Fragmentation & Reconstruction: Varda’s Radical Deconstructions of the Self


Critical Reflection

Horner shows how Varda’s complex images of fragmentation and reconstruction interrogate the feminist implications of female corporeality.


The Varda Vue in California: The Poetics of Cinema in Mur murs & Documenteur


Critical Reflection

Barkhausen shows Varda’s Los Angeles films as ‘two sides of the same coin’ in an insightful exploration of the poetics of fiction and documentary.


Agnès Varda: In-between Medium, In-between Animal


Critical Reflection

Kaufman considers Varda’s formulation of memory by following a recurring photograph from Ulysse to Les plages d’Agnès and Visages Villages.


Entropic Creativity: Agnès Varda’s Early Publications & France’s Post-war Film Ecosystem


Critical Reflection

Palmer’s analysis of Varda’s entropic, applied cinephilia broadens our grasp of her overlooked formative years in post-war France.


Regarding Violence: Du Côté de la côte and Varda’s Politics of Disregard


Critical Reflection

Kennedy-Karpat proposes that Varda’s commentary on gendered violence is structured by formal elements that complicate viewer engagement.


Sheaffer’s Queer Perspective on Orlando


Book Review

Cassigneul reviews Sheaffer’s  book which shows how Woolf’s text and Potter’s film can now be endlessly appropriated.



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The team of MAI supporters and contributors is always expanding. We’re honoured to have a specialist collective of editors, whose enthusiasm & talent gave birth to MAI.

However, to turn our MAI dream into reality, we also relied on assistance from high-quality experts in web design, development and photography. Here we’d like to acknowledge their hard work and commitment to the feminist cause. Our feminist ‘thank you’ goes to:

Dots+Circles – a digital agency determined to make a difference, who’ve designed and built our MAI website. Their continuous support became a digital catalyst to our idealistic project.
Guy Martin – an award-winning and widely published British photographer who’s kindly agreed to share his images with our readers

Chandler Jernigan – a talented young American photographer whose portraits hugely enriched the visuals of MAI website
Matt Gillespie – a gifted professional British photographer who with no hesitation gave us permission to use some of his work
Julia Carbonell – an emerging Spanish photographer whose sharp outlook at contemporary women grasped our feminist attention
Ana Pedreira – a self-taught Portuguese photographer whose imagery from women protests beams with feminist aura
And other photographers whose images have been reproduced here: Cezanne Ali, Les Anderson, Mike Wilson, Annie Spratt, Cristian Newman, Peter Hershey