Vagabond: Review. By Joe Muldoon.
Though known across most English-speaking countries as Vagabond, its more literal translation ‘Without Roof Nor Law’ seems equally appropriate. The critically-acclaimed ‘Sans toit ni loi’, winner of the 1985 Golden Lion award, is one of the finest pieces of drifter cinema. Beloved director Agnès Varda’s penchant for offering sympathetic glances into the lives of the marginalised truly shines through here.
Despite our principal character admittedly being rather unlikeable, if not downright antagonistic, the brilliance of Vagabond is that we still care for her, even in the face of her exploiting those around her.
A young woman, Mona Bergeron (César Best Actress-winning Sandrine Bonnaire), is found dead in a ditch, the circumstances surrounding her death being unknown. Throughout the film, Varda’s capabilities as both a filmmaker and documentarian stand out, with us switching between observations of Mona’s life and pseudo-documentary interviews conducted with the various people with whom the doomed drifter interacts. A vagabond by choice, Mona removes herself from her old life as a secretary, instead opting to live free of responsibility or commitment.
Wandering the dreary fields and rural roads of a wintry southern France, she picks up odd work where she can find it, mostly reliant upon the luck of chance encounters. Though dependent upon the kindness and generosity of strangers, she remains ungrateful for the help she receives, many a time disappearing from their lives without any thanks or farewells.
Along the way, the young rover encounters many fellow wanderers, as well as employed settlers, most of whom offer her food and board. She makes little to no effort to get to know them, moving on upon the expiration of their usefulness, or her being kicked out.
As the interview clips are dotted around the film, we struggle to piece together a coherent image of the nomad, the people with whom she spent time knowing very little about her. We realise that we know next to nothing about her ourselves, despite having spent the duration by her side.
She remains an enigma; a free or lost soul, we simply do not know. By the time of her unfortunate demise, her circumstances are inevitable – she dies cold and alone. Vagabond is Varda at her finest.
By Joe Muldoon.
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