In a career that began nearly 60 years ago, Agnès Varda has shown an extraordinary gift for capturing the theatricality of the mundane, particularly in her documentaries. Daguerréotypes, filmed in 1975 but only now receiving a New York run, affectionately chronicles the shopkeepers within 50 yards of her home, at 88 rue Daguerre in Paris’s 14th arrondissement. “Each morning, the curtain rises on the daily scenes,” Varda notes in spare, trenchant voiceover, introducing us to her fascinating “actors”: the be-smocked proprietors, most of them long-married, elderly couples, and their customers, who request brilliantine, baguettes, canned milk, a trim just above the collar, or a sirloin steak. Beyond these performances of politesse—the lilting bonjours and au revoirs—Varda’s merchants relay autobiographical sketches, detailing hometowns and the year they met their mate. Their lives seemingly limited to two blocks of the French capital, these artisans and salespeople later enter an otherworldly realm as both audience members and participants at a two-bit magic show at the corner café. Made decades before e-commerce, Daguerréotypes also seems to exist on another planet.
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