Mur Murs (1980)

Jumping ahead a bit in the schedule to post about Mur Murs (1980), a time capsule that still resonates with insight about urban multiculturalism, popular art, and as always with Varda, individual perspectives on the city and on life.

The roller skates are, as the kids say, an entire mood in this documentary. They are everywhere, and of course Varda almost immediately combines this particular mode of movement with the camera, featuring in an early sequence a French photographer taking candid shots while skating around a park at Venice Beach.

Juliet Berto is also very quietly present; if you blink during the opening credits and miss her name, you might not even register that she’s there, serving as a stand-in of sorts for Varda in some encounters with subjects.

But the real stars of this documentary are the murals themselves, and while taking in the sheer number and variety of murals Varda captures on film, it’s hard to imagine a bare wall staying bare for long in Los Angeles.

I’ve never been to California, and I was born the same year Varda made this film. So its time and place sit just out of my own experiential reach, making it easy to empathize with Varda — not quite an immigrant, but more than a tourist — as she scrutinizes these visible markers of a city’s identity to better understand exactly where she has landed, and who lives behind these walls that separate and connect the people of Los Angeles.

Mur Murs is now showing as part of the Voilà Varda series on MUBI: