DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
VAGABOND (SANS TOIT NI LOI) (director/writer: Agnès Varda; cinematographer: Patrick Blossier; editors: Patricia Mazuy/Agnès Varda; music: Joanna Bruzdowicz; cast: Sandrine Bonnaire (Mona Bergeron), Macha Méril (Madame Landier), Yahiaoui Assouna (Assouna, Moroccan farm worker), Stephane Freiss (Jean-Pierre), Laurence Cortadellas (Eliane) Marthe Jarnias (Tante Lydie), Christian Chessa (Drifter/Pimp), Yolande Moreau (Yolande); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Oury Milshtein; Criterion; 1985-France-in French with English subtitles)

 
"Gets a stellar performance from Bonnaire."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Agnès Varda ("The Gleaners and I"/"Cleo From 5 to 7"/"One Sings, The Other Doesn't") presents in a documentary style, with a cast of mostly nonprofessionals, a disturbing portrait of a female teenage drifter, Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire), who pays a heavy toll for trying to make her life an unconventional road trip. In the opening shot Mona is found frozen to death in a countryside ditch by the railroad tracks after being exposed to the cold all night and is buried in potter's field when no one claims the body. In flashback we follow the last few months of her life and get the reactions to those who came into contact with her. It seems no one knew her, but she seems to have had some affect on all of them in one way or another. Though we learn precious little about Mona (like what are her life dreams), through her eyes we get an unflattering picture of those she encounters as to their fears, hatreds and hypocrisies.

We learn that Mona came from a middle-class home and graduated from a vocational high school with skills as a typist, but left her secretarial job to hit the road. We see her in winter hitching in southern France, carrying a backpack, sleeping in a tent, chain-smoking, not washing, living like a tramp and aimlessly going from one place to another. It didn't seem like much fun (even the parts where she smokes grass and gets fucked by hippies), but she considers herself free from the constraints of society. Some of those she encounters are: an intellectual with a master's degree who goes back to nature to run a goat farm, a kindly Moroccan immigrant (Yahiaoui Assouna) who works as a laborer in a vineyard, a frustrated romantic housesitter (Yolande Moreau) for a senile elderly woman (Marthe Jarnias), a woman professor (Macha Méril) who was traumatized by a near death experience and is visiting southern France to try to stop a spreading tree fungus epidemic caused by rotting crates brought in by GI's during WW II, the professor's judgmental self-absorbed agronomist protege, a rapist at Mona's campsite, a fire in a crash-pad causing Mona to lose all her possessions in her backpack, a drifter/pimp (Christian Chessa) who unsuccessfully tries to recruit her and the world-weary Mona wandering into a town where the drunken costumed celebrants during a festival toss her into a wine vat.

The minimalist film, with a sparse dialogue, gets a stellar performance from Bonnaire. She won a French best actress award. Bonnaire's portrait of the unsympathetic Mona, leading a life of degradation in a cold world and her stubborn refusal to recognize something is wrong before she tragically lost her will to live, somehow strikes a chord with the viewer who has a heart for those disenfranchised who try to live their life in a unique and uncompromising way. The film manages to be mesmerizing and unforgettable in its stark characterization of the wayward drifter, who has a nasty streak that seems a self-defense mechanism to keep her distant. 

It won the first prize at the Venice Film Festival. The French title ''Sans Toit ni Loi' translates to 'without roof or law.'

REVIEWED ON 3/12/2010       GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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