Kung-Fu Master

In her deeply felt, lovely 1988 film Kung Fu Master, New Wave maverick Agnès Varda flips the traditional Lolita scenario to tell the story of a divorced woman’s affair with her teenage daughter’s fourteen year-old classmate Julien. Rather than a tale of forbidden love, this is a tremendously sensitive look at two people in transition, shifting into maturity or hoping to escape it. At once a tender fantasy—the lovers spend one happy season on a deserted island in the English Channel—and a clear-sighted portrayal of the loneliness of a middle-aged woman, Kung Fu Master takes an innocent approach to its provocative subject matter, but does not blunder into naiveté: Varda does not condone the relationship so much as recognize the sweetness that comes before gender roles calcify. While Varda’s photographer’s eye and inventive editing are at their best here, this lighthearted evocation of love and loss is also one of her most immediate, simple films. Based on a story by lead actress Jane Birkin, whose wispy voice and watery eyes have rarely been so poignant as in this portrait of a woman adrift, Kung Fu Master also features Varda’s son Mathieu Demy as Julien and Birkin’s daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg in one of her first film roles, giving the film a homebrewed charm.

Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda

Jane Birkin
Mathieu Demy
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Lou Doillon

French, English
80 min.
France, 1987
Blu-ray, DCP

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