Mourning Bodies: Varda’s Haptic Representation of Bodies “Being-Toward-Death” in L’Opéra-Mouffe and Jacquot de Nantes



It is rare to encounter a film by Agnès Varda that does not touch on death explicitly or implicitly. Yet Varda’s frequent treatment of the topic is not morbid—instead, death becomes a tenacious living presence in her films. As such, Varda exhibits a wistful attitude of acceptance that death is inevitable. She counterbalances this knowledge by ardently depicting the lives of the living so that life and death act as counterpoints to each other in a dynamic of chiaroscuro from which emerges the grand paradox of existence—as we live, we are already in the process of dying, and the body becomes the landscape where this paradox plays itself out. In Being and Time, Heidegger names this particularity of existence a “being-toward-death”. This essay demonstrates the ways in which Varda’s cinema captures the dynamic of “being-toward-death” in its contemplation of life, death and dying. An analysis of two films, Jacquot de Nantes (1990) and L’Opéra-Mouffe (1958) reveals the ways in which Varda represents the balance between life and death using a haptic aesthetic that pulls the spectator into closer contact with her films through tactile and embodying images. These films are visually haptic appeals to the audience’s pathos and awaken an empathetic response that engages the affect as well as the body. Their attention to the body, to the contours and textures contained in the filmic environment and to material objects invites the spectator’s touch. And since touch is reciprocal, the films touch back with their poignancy and haptic poetics. The paper also reflects on the appropriateness of treating the notion of death through film, a medium that is itself a perpetually dying body.

Keywords: Agnès Varda, body, cinema, death, embodiment, haptic, intersubjectivity, materiality, phenomenology, spectatorship, subjectivity.