Sans Toit ni Loi (Vagabond) (Without Roof or Rule) Reviews
Since her debut, Varda was always concerned more with the surroundings of the main story rather than with the story itself, or with a straightforward narrative. Films beginning with the tragedy of the protagonist for then telling the previous story normally carry some sort of point or message, and despite its increasing bleakness, Vagabond is no exception.
If we take the hypothesis stated in the previous paragraph about the surroundings mattering more than the simplicity of the story itself as true, then it is justifiable to leave the life background of Mona, the protagonist, as ambiguous. Even her personality isn't fully described or unraveled because those answers are hidden from us, maybe to avoid any sort of judgmental bias. The way she behaves with everybody is self-centered, cold and rude. No explanation is given for this attitude whatsoever. This might be the first audience filter, as some will find her character as either uninteresting or difficult to feel empathy towards her, thus preventing a stronger emotional connection. However, films dealing with this kind of isolation, reflected in the characters she meets and in the array of landscapes, normally work better if we are maintained in a level of isolation from the character as well. Not everybody will accept this in a movie, which is completely understandable.
Again, if we take the hypothesis as true, then Vabagond is much more a film about how an array of differing characters might react to the sight of a hitchhiking and homeless adolescent girl rather than a single character study, simply because of the fact that surroundings matter more. That's one of the most important traits of cinema for me: the surroundings. With a story of this nature, they could not be omitted. This is reflected by the interview segments that resembles a documentary, and what's the true purpose of a documentary if not to capture a slice of reality?
It does not reach the energy or freshness of Ramsay, or the invigorating isolation of Bartas, and the combination is not quite masterful, but it is easy to appreciate this disturbing journey as a reflection on how a person that is clearly rejecting the system she hates so much becomes a part of the system by becoming useless in this world and a burden to the people that decide to give her a roof. With no permanent roof to house her or a law to suit her interests, Vagabond is a rather thought-provoking, although pessimistic look at the consequences of rejecting a system that is bigger than our individual capabilities as a person. Outcasts, unfortunately, are meant to be destroyed in this hostile world. Not for the faint of heart.
Who is this strange woman we are following? Is she destitute or is she free?
Is this film a pseudo-documentary or a radical re-imaging of Citizen Kane?
The film never answers these questions & that's why it lingered with me
So what's it about then? What makes "Vagabond" worth while? Well, this is why I find writing about "Vagabond" difficult. Agnes Varda didn't give me much to grasp onto in her film regardless of my efforts. I feel that if I was filmed while viewing "Vagabond," an outside viewer would have a more firm grasp on who I am as person than I ever did about Mona. Yet, Mona really leaves an impression that I still want to place. Perhaps this sense of confusion is what "Vagabond" is ultimately about? The film is a murder mystery after all. Sure, we know right from the start how Mona died, we know it wasn't murder committed by anyone specific and we know the lifestyle, which lead to her end, was her choice. But this doesn't stop us from asking why she died. What gave her the drive to stick to this hard lifestyle avoiding offers of a stable, safe, life? Varda never gives an answer but she did give me something....
The final moments of Vagabond are exactly what you would expect. We see Mona, her movements are slow and stiff, she's wrapped in a small blanket, I swear I can hear her teeth clatter while she shuffles her feet across the hard ground of the frozen vineyard. Mona falls, her limbs are so frozen that she can't even lift herself. There isn't a hint of regret or fear on her face, she has no words of wisdom, she's far from a vague utterance of "rosebud." Mona dies just like she lived, in the moment. I can't think of another death in film that has effected me so, I want so badly to pull Mona out of that ditch, yes, I know how stupid that sounds. Then I realize every person Mona comes across attempts to pull her out of that ditch, but unlike her halfhearted answers to personal inquiries, and human relationships, that ditch is the only truth we will ever know of Mona.