“You chose total freedom but you got total loneliness.”
I have been thoroughly impressed with the French film that has come my way so far. This movie, Sans Toit Ni Loi, translates to “Without roof nor law,” but it was given the English name Vagabond. The film is a fascinating exploration of the life of a young woman as she roams from place to place without any real direction. It strikes me as very similar to the novel and film adaptation of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, only I enjoyed this one much more.
The most striking thing about the film is its narrative structure. The opening shot is a farmer discovering Mona’s dead body on his land, and the rest of the film follows the director (voiced by actual film director Agnes Varda) trying to figure out what happened to her. Mona actually appears in the film and acts out her journey, but with frequent interviews and direct-addresses from the people she met along the way. It’s an interesting idea where the whole thing feels like some documentary re-enactment of Mona’s actually journey, even though the whole story is fictional to begin with.
I would say right away that the film is just as much about the people Mona meets along her journey as it is about the young vagabond herself. Everyone that takes her in seems to impart some life lesson or provide some thoughts on Mona’s state, which she always ends up rejecting. There were many great quotes to pick out of this one relating to what it’s like to be a drifter and have no sense of purpose. It’s also fascinating how everyone Mona meets, even the ones who don’t like her, seem to miss her in some way, either as a real friend or just a sexual object. There’s this sort of impact she has on the people she meets, leaving them empty by the end.
One thing that dragged the film down a bit was Mona herself. Perhaps the idea is that the character we see is just an idea, not the true story itself, only bits and pieces that we are able to catch a glimpse of. Whatever the reason, Mona comes off as pretty unlikable, and it feels deliberate. She rejects working hard to earn her keep, and she shows little gratitude for the people she meets, almost like a sense of entitlement. I will say that she is certainly an interesting, strong character. In fact, I can’t think of many similar characters in film. She’s just not particularly nice, but maybe we aren’t supposed to like her. I’m a bit torn on this one. I believe the film ultimately suffers due to Mona’s bitter cynicism, but it intrigues me as a viewer at the same time.
If you were to call this film experimental for its structure, which I think you should, then I would say it is a successful experiment. The narrative is incredibly engaging because it drifts around without any real focus, just as Mona does on her journey. We don’t get to meet any character at great length or really understand anyone in the film to a great extent. Even the protagonist herself feels extremely distant to us. There’s nothing to hold onto with this film, which would certainly put off some viewers, but I find it fascinating.
The outcome of all of this is one sad film. I felt empty from the first scene and no more fulfilled by the end, but I was always interested. I have a deep respect for this kind of work. It knows how to tell a story, but just doesn’t seem to care at times. It’s really brutal, and some of the moments in the film seem to sting because of how real they seem. I wouldn’t doubt this as a true story for a second. For this reason, I would call the film a major success. It hits a unique place for its viewers that isn’t often reached by film, and for that, I applaud.
Films Left to Watch: 981