Salut les Cubains – Agnès Varda (1964)

“Agnès Varda’s pictures of Cuba had been sitting untouched in boxes since the mid-1960s. The images – of female bodies in form-fitting silhouettes, and men harvesting in cane fields – ‘were never meant to be shown,’ says the grande dame of French cinema. The compendium of thousands of photographs had been taken in service of her film, Salut les Cubains; after it was completed, Varda cast the images aside. That was until curator Clément Chéroux looked through her archives and discovered them. It was four years after the pro-US dictator Fulgencio Batista had been overthrown by Fidel Castro, and in the wake of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba was defiant. That rebellion crackled in its culture – and in Varda’s pictures. ‘When you’re in a place, what you’re doing can’t be confused for anywhere else – it should be an indication of the country and the epoch,’ says Varda today. An exhibition at the Pompidou Centre now lays out Varda’s photographs in cinematic sequences, honouring their purpose as source material for her half-hour film, which is shown on a loop in the gallery. Born in Belgium in 1928, Varda was a pioneer whose films diverged from the male-centric vision of the French New Wave. Her first feature, La Pointe Courte, was followed by the iconic 1961 film, Cléo de 5 à 7 – showing a woman’s point of view over the course of a day as she waits to find out about the life-changing result of a medical test. Varda made nearly 20 films in the following five decades; this year, she won an honorary Palme d’Or at Cannes – the first woman ever to do so. With her distinctive hairstyle and brightly coloured style, she has long been an icon of the Paris community. The energy of the 1950s Cuban revolution had already thrilled and attracted a number of French artists and intellectuals to the country. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had hung out with Che Guevara and reported for the French press; Henri Cartier-Bresson visited at the same time as Varda, and they crossed paths at a hotel. …”
The Centre Pompidou: Varda / Cuba
Beyond the Photo Album: Relocating Varda’s Salut les Cubains
YouTube: Salut les Cubains

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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