“Female drifters, all alike: just loafers and men-chasers.”
Of these three films, Vagabond is ultimately the most successful and satisfying, thanks primarily to Sandrine Bonnaire’s compelling, brave performance. As in her screen debut (playing teenage Suzanne in 1983’s A Nos Amours), Bonnaire invests her character here with an air of studied yet vulnerable insouciance; in some ways, Mona is simply a radical, tragic extension of Suzanne. To her credit, however, Varda doesn’t try to frame Mona as overly sympathetic — she’s bitchy and conniving when she needs to be, doing whatever it takes to make it from day to day with a minimum of effort; she lacks overt initiative, and often fails to take advantage of the kindnesses offered to her.
Although we never learn exactly why Mona is rebelling against even the most minimal strictures of society, it’s clear from the opening shot of her corpse that such an approach is doomed. Throughout the film, she’s bedraggled, smelly, and occasionally feral — yet always fascinating and/or frustrating to those around her: just as Varda herself somewhat romantically posits Mona as “emerging from the ocean”, each character in the film is given a chance to comment on how they view Mona’s situation, thus making this more of a multi-faceted “reaction” story than simply a study in character. Vagabond is an undeniably harsh experience to sit through, but remains memorable long after the camera has circled back once again onto Mona’s frozen, lifeless body in a ditch.
P.S. Vagabond also provides hints of Varda’s future interest in society’s “gleaners” — outsiders who scavenge off the leavings of others; perhaps more so than any other filmmaker, Varda’s sporadic corpus of work truly reflects her evolving viewpoints over the decades.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)