In 2007 Sean Penn directed Into The Wild, a true life tale about a young man who wants to escape the clutches of modern capitalism by never staying in one place for any marked length of time. The pinnacle of this way of living is to go off into the wild of Alaska by himself for an indefinite period.
Way before that, in 1985, French director, Agnes Varda, made Vagabond, or to give it its French title Sans toit ni loi, which translated literally means “Without Roof or Rule”. Like Into The Wild it’s about a young woman, Mona, who lives on the road and has no place to call her own. Relying instead on the kindness of others to survive.
A fictional tale, the main thing that separates it from Into The Wild is that the lead character has none of the lust for life that Penn’s movie does. Where as Hirsch’s character is able to bring a lot of warmth and encouragement to the people he comes across, Mona seems like much too broken a character to be able to do the same thing, and will sometimes greet kindness with a special kind of apathy.
In fact, the true nature of her character is at the centre of the film. Characters address the camera, at various points in the story, expressing their experiences with her, and opinion on her. All differ wildly. What they do have in common in that they reflect something of their own prejudices and outlook.
These differing perspectives give the movie an added dimension, as we the audience are invited to piece together who Mona really was, and whether she was a victim of circumstance or a master of her own fate.
Overall, there’s a lot to like in this film. The faux-documentary style, the ambiguous nature of the main character, and the way people’s opinions reveal more about themselves than about the person they’re describing all make this film very easy to recommend.
I started this series based on titles I was studying at an evening course at Edinburgh University. Vagabond marks the end of the course, and so the end of the series. If you’ve missed any of the Film School articles, just click here.
My next series will be “Films of Shame”. That is films, I really should have seen by now, but haven’t.
The first five will be:
1. Citizen Kane
2. Godfather Part 2
3. The Shining
4. Taxi Driver
5. Annie Hall
I’d be interested to know other people’s “Films of Shame”. Have you never seen “Star Wars”, “Schindler’s List” or “The Wizard of Oz”? Do you have to pretend to know what’s so special about Bruce Willis’ watch in Pulp Fiction? Or do you sometimes intersperse conversations about Lord of the Rings, with “My Precioussssss” in the hope no one will find out your guilty secret?
Confessions welcome below: