Varda describes Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988) as a kaleidoscope film, a film of various stories, over various seasons. It is a film of coloured facets, falling shards, about a varying woman, a starlet, an icon, Varda’s friend Jane Birkin. Unlike a conventional film homage to an actress, rich with clips and tributes, this collaborative project, an imaginary archive of Birkin, comprises new scenes from imagined films, scenarios in which Birkin might have, or would have like to have, starred. It creates a repertory to meet Birkin’s desire and to realise her possibilities. It intersperses imagined scenes with interviews between Varda and Birkin, living and alive, in moments of apparent intimacy and limpidity. In among its ways of imaging Birkin, of approaching her, the film returns to the figure of the reclining nude. This is the image Varda chooses as she responds to an actress who is her intimate friend and who is also a beautiful, notorious, and fragile star. The figure of the reclining nude allows Varda to attend to and reflect on Birkin’s erotic appeal, her pliability, her aura of nymphet and femme enfant, her availability, and provocation.
Jane B. par Agnès V. is a film about apprehending another woman’s impressionability. This is its feminist curiosity. It acquires poignancy as a portrait about mortality and vanity, responding to Birkin’s nearing the age of 40. The film is dedicated to Jane Birkin, with love, with kisses, on her fortieth birthday. Critical to the film is Birkin’s particular vulnerability at this age of her life. Interviewed in Varda par Agnès, Birkin explains her feelings of fear surrounding 40: «cela m’apparaissait surtout le moment où la peur de perdre des êtres chers vous prend [it seemed to me above all the moment when you feel the fear of losing loved ones]». Her fear comes in her sensing of the fragility of life, in her apprehension of her loved ones as damageable, impermanent. It is this vulnerability that draws Varda’s interest. She explains in the same interview: