It has been argued that French director Agnès Varda has remained relatively unsung by virtue of discrimination toward her as a woman. Prolific since the 1950s—and having only recently released what she claims is her last film, 2008's auto-biopic The Beaches of Agnes—Varda is often called the "grandmother" of the French New Wave, though far less recognizable than Godard, Truffaut, or her late husband, Jacques Demy. She's decidedly the lone woman in that boys' club, though her singular approach and inconsistent, experimental toggling between drama and documentary also contribute to the difficulty of easy canonization.
The NW Film Center's "Vardian Vision" series features Varda's most notable films, along with some rarely seen, un-Netflix-able gems. In addition to The Beaches of Agnès, there's her 1961 breakthrough drama, Cléo from 5 to 7, a semi-real time study of a childish, glamorous pop singer (Corinne Marchand) awaiting the results of a cancer test, ostensibly over a two hour period (the film runs closer to an hour and a half). Varda tends toward female protagonists—which gives her work a quasi-feminist sheen—the most famous of which is Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire). The titular subject of Vagabond, Mona is a young, wild, wolf-like drifter. Varda's terminally cool 1985 film opens with the discovery of Mona's body, frozen to death in a ditch, and then proceeds to trace her final months, in part through documentary-style interviews with those she has met along her journey.
The Gleaners and I (2000) is Varda's most well known documentary (her classification "essay" is more apt), inspired by old paintings of the peasant "gleaners" who would sweep the fields, post-harvest, for free food, a practice still legal under French law. A tradition carried on in the present day by gypsies as well as fun-seekers, and extended into urban life in the form of scavenging the remains of markets and dumpster diving, Varda's full tour into this world reveals insights with social, environmental, self-reflective, and artistic relevance that are, as is characteristic of her work, ahead of her time.