film fatales #164: one sings, the other doesn't (agnès varda, 1977)
Sunday, March 26, 2023
This is my seventh Agnès Varda movie, and she hasn't failed me yet. She is my favorite woman director, and I'm a bit embarrassed that I never even saw one of her movies until a dozen or so years ago. I've never given a Varda film less than an 8/10 rating, and One Sings, the Other Doesn't continues that streak. I do think, though, that this is my least-favorite so far, which is kind of silly considering I find it better than the vast majority of other movies.
One Sings, the Other Doesn't combines moments of whimsy with pointed political statements, tied to actual events. There is a recreation of a 1972 trial that was key to the process that resulted in legalized abortions in France. One of the primary lawyers in the case, Gisèle Halimi, makes a brief appearance as herself in the movie:
It is easy to imagine that the ambience during the making of One Sings was congenial, and everything we know about the filming reinforces this feeling. It has a collaborative sensibility. While the narrative, which covers roughly 15 years beginning in 1962, is usefully "real", the atmosphere is always positive, looking forward to liberation. These characters have experienced life and death ... there are echoes of historical moments like Paris 1968, or the 1972 abortion trial, and Varda is explicitly presenting a feminist vision that imagines that liberation is coming or is already here. There is a pleasure in the presentation. One Sings, the Other Doesn't suggests the hippie era of the late 60s, with its traveling musicians and its experimental life styles. I wouldn't say it's naïve, but the at times goofy feel of the movie buries the more serious political ideas. Which is what Varda was going for, I'm sure ... she wrote the lyrics to the songs, and while it's been said that they don't translate well into English, nonetheless as they appear in the subtitles, those lyrics are the worst thing about the movie.
One Sings, the Other Doesn't is rooted in feminist politics, but Varda makes sure to have her cake and eat it, too. It's a delight that to an extent buries politics in joy, which is where the delight comes from. You may find yourself thinking after the fact about the political implications of the film, but while you are watching it, you are mostly just enjoying what you see.