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Film / Vagabond (1985)

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Vagabond, original French title Sans toit ni loi ("Without roof or law"), is a 1985 drama by Agn├Ęs Varda. It contains elements of what would become a classic style for Varda, particularly the idea of wandering.

The girl of the film, Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire), wanders through the wine country. As an earlier example of this motif in Varda's films, it is one of the films cited when describing Varda's overall method in filmmaking as being a journey through the film creation, with lots of wandering tangents explored to truly discover what film she is making as she is making it.

The film is an exploration of rural lifestyles in the wine country, with Mona encountering some farmers and other vagabonds. At one point she meets a young hippy girl and explains that she had lived a lucrative life with a good office job in Paris but was unfulfilled and took to walking. The girl romanticizes the vagabond life and is this point cracks appear in Mona's life; she still does not seem happy, and becomes more depressed as well as physically ailing until collapsing in the snow.

It has been released by Criterion twice, once by itself and once in a collection of 4 Varda films.

Tropes without homes:

  • all lowercase letters: The style of the opening credits.
  • Aside Comment:
    • Yolande, the caretaker who finds Mona and her boyfriend squatting in an old chateau, addresses the camera directly. It seems to be a Breaking the Fourth Wall moment and not part of the Framing Device.
    • The boyfriend does the same, talking about how Mona ditched him after he was knocked out by the thieves who robbed the chateau. This appears to be before Mona's death, as she watches the train the boyfriend is riding leave a station.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The agronomist's wife does not like him hanging out with Mona, saying "Maybe she's a drug addict!" Cut to Mona, getting a needle stuck in her arm—but she's selling her blood.
  • Bathtub Scene: Out of nowhere the film cuts to a very attractive middle-aged lady taking a bath. She has a phone and she is telling a friend about how she picked up Mona the hitchhiker.
  • Body Horror: The opening is what looks to be a gnarled body that is literally freezing.
  • Creator Cameo: Varda as a police interviewer, who is never seen.
  • Downer Beginning: A young woman is found dead in a ditch at a French winery.
  • The Drifter: The film can be seen as a deconstruction of this trope. Mona, apparently, chose the life of a drifter because she doesn't like people and has an aversion to work. This becomes apparent when she briefly stays at a farm owned by a couple of old hippies. When Mona offhandedly says that she might like to farm potatoes, the farmer offers her a plot of land and even says he'll help her work it. But instead she loafs in a camper. When the farmer asks if she plans to do any work, she says that she was a secretary, and she hated having a boss, so she hit the open road. Then she leaves.
  • Foregone Conclusion: That Mona dies at the end.
  • Framing Device: A police investigation into the girl is used to introduce the film, and then moves to an omniscient narrative.
  • Ignored Epiphany: The hippie farmer, who was once a wanderer like Mona, tries to give her some advice. He tells her that the road is no place to live, that the people he knew from back in the day that stayed on the road died. She ignores him, continues her wandering ways, and eventually freezes to death in a ditch.
  • Match Cut: From Yolande caressing the face of her shiftless, awful boyfriend, to Mona touching a stone statue of a naked woman on the grounds of the old chateau where she is squatting.
  • Punny Name: The original French name is both describing a vagabond, having no roof over their head or respect for law, as well as wordplay on the French saying "sans foi ni loi" (without faith or law).
  • Streetwalker: Mona chats with a prostitute standing by the side of a highway. The hooker is friendly but then tells Mona to walk away because Mona is scaring off customers.
  • Trashcan Bonfire: Unlike most settings where the trashcan bonfire is used simply to evoke a mood of poverty, here it's relevant to the plot. Two tramps in the abandoned building where Mona is staying knock it over while fighting, starting a fire. Mona has to run for her life, and loses most of her gear, including her tent, which is a major setback.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: A gas station operator says he paid Mona to wash a car but wouldn't give her work, saying that female drifters are all untrustworthy and "man-chasers." This is followed by a flashback showing the gas station operator himself, coming out of Mona's tent, pulling up his pants.
  • The Voice: Varda's police character.

Alternative Title(s): Sans Toit Ni Loi