Information in the Degree Programme Tables may still be subject to change in response to Covid-19

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : European Languages and Cultures - French

Undergraduate Course: Film at the Margins: The Cinema of Agnès Varda (Ordinary) (ELCF09040)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 9 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course provides students with the opportunity to study the extensive body of work produced by one of France's best-known and most respected film directors, Agnès Varda. The course will explore a diverse range of the films she made during her career, from her earliest work, which anticipated the French New Wave movement of the late 1950s/early 1960s, to the films she made as a mature director exploring women's experience through a feminist lens, to her most recent documentary work on ageing. The course's focus on marginalisation and lives lived at the margins reflects the signature preoccupations of Varda's cinema.
Course description Agnès Varda (1928-2019) emerged as a fully-fledged film-maker, yet as an outsider to the French film industry in 1956, when she made her first film. She went on to become one of France's best-known and most respected film directors, straddling the divide between documentary and fiction, and making both short and feature-length films. Often described as the 'mother of the New Wave', Varda was known from the very start of her career as a remarkable innovator of the filmic form, developing themes and filmic techniques in her films of the 1950s that would later become signature preoccupations of the iconic French New Wave cinema movement.

Beyond this achievement, Varda's films, made over a period of more than 60 years, offer a set of reflections on modern life unmatched in their breadth of perspective by any other film director working in French cinema. Varda wrote, 'je suis une marginale née' [I was born marginal], and one of the distinctive traits of her film-making is her interest as a director in the experiences of those citizens who are marginalised within society. In male-dominated western European societies, this includes women, and Varda is known for her feminist interventions within and beyond the cinema, having made numerous fictional feature films and documentaries concerned with women's rights.

Varda's internationalist outlook, political awareness and interest in marginal lives is also expressed in a series of documentary films that chronicle her encounters with a variety of different groups living - or considered to live - at the fringes of society. During the 1960s, these included Californian hippies and the African American civil rights activists, the Black Panthers; in later films, Varda's preoccupation shifts to the economically marginalised fellow citizens that she finds in France, and her work traces the lives of the poor, the destitute and the homeless, as well as those of overlooked rural communities threatened by globalisation and the often technologically-drive changes to traditional industries that lie at these communities' heart.

The richness of Varda's film-making extends still further: another recurrent interest of hers is autobiographical film-making, and several of her films chronicle, directly or indirectly, key events in her life, such as her experience of becoming a mother, ageing, and being widowed (following the death of her husband, fellow film director, Jacques Demy).

This course will provide students with the opportunity to undertake an in-depth study of Varda's cinematic work, encompassing not only to the great diversity of Varda's thematic preoccupations in her films, and her use of a variety of film forms, but also to the production contexts, and the wide range of cinematographic techniques and narrative strategies in evidence in her extensive body of filmic work. In this way, students will be able to develop an extensive understanding of how these features contribute to the cinematic meanings and messages emerging from Varda's films, and how these elements affect film production more widely. Similarly, the course's focus on Varda's handling of the generic conventions relating to fictional feature-length films on the one hand, and documentary films on the other, will enable students to develop broader insights into the implicit assumptions associated with these two modes of film-making, particularly in relation to how films convey ideas about truth and what is real. Taking its lead from the content of Varda's own highly reflective and often political films, this course will require students to engage in complex interrogations of the possibilities and limits of the filmic form as they study Varda's cinema, and to be able to communicate their ideas on these matters through the medium of the French language. Accordingly, the seminar format, with an emphasis on group discussions in response to set readings and preparatory work done by students in Autonomous Learning Groups, along with the assessment tasks, is designed to facilitate the incremental development of a sophisticated understanding and articulation of the ways in which films may serve as philosophical reflections on social problems, cultural difference, personal experience, and much more besides.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students MUST have passed: French 2 Literature and Culture (ELCF08012) AND French 2 Language (ELCF08013)
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesEquivalent proficiency in French language and literary/cultural study to pre-requisite requirement for University of Edinburgh students. (The course is taught through the medium of French.)
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2020/21, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  3
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 60 %, Coursework 20 %, Practical Exam 20 %
Additional Information (Assessment) ***100% Coursework***

Participation (discussion board/padlet contributions) (10%)

Blog posts, max 400 (Ord) /500 (Hons) words (15%)

Oral presentation, max 8 mins long, excl. film clip (audio recording + Ppt) (15%)

Time limited essay max 1300 words (upload to Turnitin) (60%)
Feedback The reflective blog posts, to be submitted at the middle of the semester, constitutes a minor assessment element that also provides a formative feedback opportunity in advance of the submission of the limited time essay.

In addition, students will be offered a further formative feedback opportunity in advance of submitting their limited time essay, as they will be invited to submit a short (2 sides of A4) essay plan prepared in response to a past paper exam question (or, in the very first year of the course, a question from the specimen exam paper to be provided). This will be submitted and feedback provided prior to the release of the limited time essay questions.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Show understanding, both orally and in writing, of the treatment of marginality and other distinctive qualities in the filmic body of work comprising the cinema of Agnès Varda, as well as the capacity to relate thematic and formal features of these films to relevant social, cultural and theoretical contexts.
  2. Execute and present, both orally and in writing, analyses of films, with due regard to the specificities of the medium of film, and using analytical strategies, techniques and terminology appropriate to the academic study of film (this includes the production of sequence analyses).
  3. Articulate their insights and analyses relating to these French-language films and their contexts orally in French, demonstrating as they do so a satisfactory grasp of register, vocabulary and grammatical and syntactical structures in the target language.
  4. Interpret and synthesise, both orally and in writing, information drawn from a variety of written as well as audiovisual sources, including selected films from amongst those that constitute the set primary works of the course, as well as critical and theoretical perspectives found in works of scholarly secondary literature.
  5. Construct coherent arguments which engage satisfactorily and knowledgeably with the selected films and the conceptual material studied on the course, and to present these discussions with a satisfactory level of clarity and scholarly rigour in both oral and written forms.
Reading List

(essential learning resources include selected films directed by Agnès Varda, to be confirmed before the start of the academic year)

Bénézet, Delphine, The Cinema of Agnès Varda: Resistance and Eclecticism (London: Wallflower, 2014)
Conway, Kelley, Agnès Varda (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013)
Fiant, Antony, Roxane Hamery & Eric Thouvenel (eds), Agnès Varda: le cinéma et au-delà (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2009)
Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy, To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema, 2nd edn (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996)
DeRoo, Rebecca J., Agnès Varda between Film, Photography and Art (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018)
Smith, Alison, Agnès Varda (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998)


Barnet, Marie-Claire (ed.), Agnès Varda Unlimited: Image, Music, Media (Cambridge: Legenda, 2016)
Blüher, Dominique, 'Autobiography, (Re-)Enactment and the Performative Self-Portrait in Varda's Les Plages d'Agnès/The Beaches of Agnes (2008)', Studies in European Cinema, 10: 1 (2013), 59-69
Boyle, Claire, 'La vie rêvée d'Agnès Varda: Dreaming the Self and Cinematic Autobiography in Les Plages d'Agnès', in L'Autobiographie entre autres: écrire la vie aujourd'hui, ed. by Fabien Arribert-Narce & Alain Ausoni (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013), pp. 149-66
Conway, Kelley, 'Varda at Work: Les Plages d'Agnès', Studies in French Cinema, 10.2 (2010), 125-39
Danks, Adrian, 'Living Cinema: The "Demy Films" of Agnès Varda', Studies in Documentary Cinema, 4.2 (2010), 159-72
Mulvey, Laura, 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', Screen, 16.3 (Autumn 1975), 6-18


Garson, Charlotte, 'Le documentaire, horizon du cinéma contemporain?', Études, 412 (2010/4)
Greene, Naomi, The French New Wave: A New Look (London: Wallflower, 2007)
Kline, T. Jefferson (ed.), Agnès Varda: Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014)
Neupert, Richard, A History of the French New Wave Cinema, 2nd edn (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007)
Renov, Michael, 'First-Person Films: Some Thoughts on Self-Inscription', in Rethinking Documentary: New Perspectives and Practices, eds Austin & de Jong (Open University Press, 2008, pp. 39-50
Tarr, Carrie & Brigitte Rollet, Cinema and the Second Sex: Women's Filmmaking in France in the 1980s and 1990s (London: Bloomsbury, 2016)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Students will develop their skills in:
-- advanced oral and written communication skills in French and English
-- working with others to perform analyses of primary and secondary materials and solve problems
-- working independently to evaluate and synthesise information.
KeywordsFrench cinema Agnès Varda documentary film fiction New Wave feminist autobiographical marginality
Course organiserDr Claire Boyle
Tel: (0131 6)50 4024
Course secretaryMrs Elsie Gach
Tel: (0131 6)50 8421
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information